Lord Puttnam Forsakes BBC Chair for Bliss in Ireland

02 February 2007

LONDON: Lord David Puttnam, former Oscar-winning film producer and, these days, a New Labour political doyen in the UK House of Lords, has decided not to throw his hat into the ring for the vacant chair of the BBC Trust - a newly formed body with oversight of the corporation's activities and executive management.

The bookies' runaway favourite for the four-days-weekly £144,000 a year post, Puttnam's decision will disappoint many within the BBC and elsewhere - especially the Blair administration's under-populated liberal wing.

Writing in Thursday's issue of political weekly The Spectator, Puttnam confirmed he has decided not to be a candidate. However, he urges the Trust to hold the BBC management to account over "issues of public concern, such as the sometimes offensive salaries paid to key talent".

The latter is an unambiguous reference to the recent furore over a three-year £6 million annual fee payable to talk-show host Jonathan Ross - a name not usually associated with phrases like "key talent".

Continued Puttnam: "I will continue to be a vocal supporter of the BBC and all that, at its best, it continues to represent.

"As an institution it is far from perfect, but it does continue to offer the possibility of an eventual victory for sanity over nihilism in the evolution of the nation's media output."

"The trust's willingness to confront, where necessary, the [BBC's] executive board, will be crucial to enshrining the corporation's reputation for integrity."

Puttnam also confided to the Media Guardian that family considerations underlie his withdrawal: "It's the right decision for me. The bottom line is that having reached a point in my life at which, living in Ireland, I have never been happier I couldn't find a way of justifying the possibility of upsetting that."

January 31 was the deadline for applications for the post. Unconfirmed candidates are said to include broadcaster David Dimbleby, vice-chair of the trust Chitra Bharucha, Marks & Spencer chairman Lord Terry Burns, former Lords leader Baroness Margaret Jay, Liz Forgan, chair of the Scott Trust, which owns The Guardian and Sir Stuart Hampson, chair of the John Lewis Partnership.

Data sourced from MediaGuardian.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff