The BBC Trust has appointed Tony Hall CBE, a life peer with the title Baron Hall of Birkenhead who is currently chief executive of the Royal Opera House, as its 16th director-general, it was announced this morning.
Hall previously worked at the BBC for 28 years, joining as a news trainee in 1973 and occupying the post of head of news and current affairs between 1996 and 2001.
Announcing the appointment, BBC chairman Chris Patten said Hall would help the BBC to take “a long, hard look at the way it operates”, and would be instrumental in rebuilding trust in the Corporation’s news output.
Lord Hall will rejoin the BBC in March, replacing acting director-general Tim Davie, who took over as the BBC’s editor-in-chief following the resignation of George Entwistle on 11 November. Hall will draw a salary of £450,000 per year – the same as Entwistle and Davie.
Speculation that Hall would be the new man at the top of the BBC had intensified over the past two days, with bookmakers yesterday slashing his odds of succeeding Entwistle from 5/1 to Evens after a number of large bets were placed.
Accepting the job, the 61-year-old said: “I believe passionately in the BBC and that’s why I have accepted Lord Patten’s invitation. This organisation is an incredibly important part of what makes the United Kingdom what it is. And of course it matters not just to people in this country – but to tens of millions around the world too.
“It’s been a difficult few weeks – but together we’ll get through it. I’m committed to ensuring our news services are the best in the world. I’m committed to making this a place where creative people, the best and the brightest, want to work. And I know from my first days here as a news trainee, to my time as head of news and current affairs, to my time now at the Royal Opera House, that I can’t do it on my own. Having the right teams working together, sparking off each other, is key.
“I want to build a world-class team to lead a world-class BBC.”
Hall joined the Royal Opera House in April 2001, after nearly three decades at the BBC. In his career at the Corporation he launched Radio 5 Live, BBC News 24, BBC News Online and BBC Parliament. Other positions held included senior producer at World at One, assistant editor of the Nine O’Clock News and output editor for Newsnight.
In 1999, Hall applied for the job of BBC director-general but was overlooked in favour of Greg Dyke. He did not apply for the vacancy earlier this year when Mark Thompson resigned – and indeed was still expressing his lack of interest in the role to journalists as recently as two months ago.
Hall’s tenure at the Royal Opera House saw him credited with stabilising the venue’s finances by increasing turnover and reducing reliance on public funds, partly by broadening the ROH’s audience through branching out into DVD, cinema and multimedia. He is also currently deputy chairman of Channel 4.
Prominent BBC journalists were quick to comment on the appointment of their new leader. Question Time host David Dimbleby said: “I think it’s a very good choice and a great relief for those of us who work for the BBC. He knows the BBC and he’s worked outside but, above all, he understands BBC journalism. He’s a good public face for the BBC. I feel like I’m serving in the Royal Navy when the message came in: ‘Winston is back.'”
Dimbleby added: “I think most people will be thrilled at this choice and [we] will also get the leadership that is needed from somebody who is a creative man and a good administrator – and a calm man in a time of crisis.”
BBC political editor Nick Robinson tweeted: “Tony Hall shrewd choice as BBC DG. Knows news & arts. Knows BBC & outside world. Knows need to justify what a publicly funded body does.”
Radio 5 Live morning host Nicky Campbell wrote: “Love all the career conscious BBC bods tweeting what a brilliant appointment for DG Tony Hall is. Brilliant? It is perfect… Tony Hall. Good on news. Good on the causes of news.”
BBC chairman Chris Patten said: “While there are still very serious questions to be answered by the ongoing inquiries, it is in the interests of licence fee payers that the BBC now starts to refocus on its main purpose – making great programmes that audiences love and trust.
“In doing this, it will need to take a long, hard look at the way it operates and put in place the changes required to ensure it lives up to the standards that the public expects. Tony Hall is the right person to lead this and I am delighted that he is taking on this role.
“Tony Hall has been an insider and is a currently an outsider. As an ex-BBC man he understands how the Corporation’s culture and behaviour make it, at its best, the greatest broadcaster in the world. And from his vantage point outside the BBC, he understands the sometimes justified criticisms of the Corporation – that it can be inward-looking and on occasions too institutional.
“But perhaps most importantly, given where we now find ourselves, his background in news will prove invaluable as the BBC looks to rebuild both its reputation in this area and the trust of audiences.”
Culture Secretary Maria Miller welcomed the appointment, saying: “I congratulate Tony Hall on his appointment as director-general. He has a very strong track record in successfully leading iconic organisations. It is important now that he [quickly provides] the stability and certainty that the BBC needs, and restore[s] public confidence.”
Shadow Culture Secretary Harriet Harman agreed, commenting: “Tony Hall is an excellent choice as the new director-general of the BBC. He is the right person to bring stability to the BBC in these difficult times and I look forward to working with him.”