BBC Chairman Defects in Bid to Steer ITV Off Rocks

28 November 2006

LONDON: Eyebrows around London's media parish pump hit hairlines last night as news broke that BBC chairman Michael Grade had resigned to take the helm as executive chairman of floundering ITV - the UK's largest commercial broadcaster.

Grade, scion of a showbiz dynasty, is a TV man to his fingertips. His father was theatrical agent Leslie Grade - a one-time song and dance man with uncle Lew Grade - the latter becoming a TV mogul enobled as Lord Grade. As was another uncle, the impresario Lord Bernard Delfont.

Grade's career rise was never in doubt. Initially a newspaper sports columnist, he took over his father's agency after the latter suffered a serious stroke in 1966. In 1973 he joined London Weekend Television as deputy controller of programmes.

From whence he stormed the TV career ladder, en route taking in senior roles at the BBC and Channel 4 where his Rabelaisian programming caused the Daily Mail to dub him "Britain's pornographer-in-chief"'.

In May 2004 Grade became of chairman of the BBC's board of governors - an acutely political appointment, the vacancy having been created by the Blair administration's Iraq-occasioned war with the BBC.

His resignation, delivered Monday afternoon, could hardly have come at a worse time for the BBC, now at a critical stage of negotiations with the government - nominally over its licence fee.

But in reality the haggling reverberates with other political pressures. More than a few of which of which allegedly emanate from Clan Murdoch with whom the BBC has a history of fiery relations.

ITV has been searching for a chief executive since former incumbent Charles Allen was ousted by investor pressure in August, leaving behind him plummeting audience ratings and advertising revenues.

Grade is a 'two-for-the-price-of-one' solution to that problem. As executive chairman, he not only fills the ceo vacuum but will replace current chairman Sir Peter Burt, who is said to be eager to retire from his searing seat.

He will take up his position at ITV on 1 January 2007 on a three-year contract.

Reports BBC business editor Robert Peston: "The timing of Michael Grade's departure to ITV could hardly be worse for the BBC. For the first time in ages, ITV executives can afford a smile. They've got a new boss who has television in his blood."

In a formal statement - albeit through gritted lips - the BBC described his resignation as: "Clearly . . . a surprise, especially at this moment. Michael Grade has been a great chairman."

According to Jeff Randall, a former BBC business editor who broke the story in the Daily Telegraph, Grade is "likely to have demanded a remuneration package of unprecedented riches. There is carnage at the BBC; people are incandescent with rage."

Data sourced from Financial Times Online and BBC Online; additional content by WARC staff