Mark Byford walks the plank as under-fire Thompson slims down BBC crew

BBC director general Mark Thompson may have scored a triumph at the Edinburgh International TV Festival by turning his guns on arch-enemy Sky and its supposed plans for UK media domination but the knives are still out for the BBC’s allegedly overpaid managers and deputy director general Mark Byford is the first victim, losing his £475,000 a year job.

The Financial Times helpfully reminds us of a quote by its former media correspondent Ray Snoddy to the effect that, when trouble hits the BBC “deputy heads must roll.’

Byford can console himself with a redundo cheque of around £900,000 and a humungous pension pot worth around £400,000 a year for life, unless this too has been slashed. It will be interesting to see if he walks into another job. Or maybe he’ll just write his account of proceedings, which would be interesting.

But the BBC’s management, if not necessarily the Beeb itself, are fighting for their lives as everybody from the Government to the Murdoch clan to BBC staff turn on them for being allegedly anti-competitive and feathering their own nest at the same time as they’re cutting staff pensions and benefits. The main criticism of Byford, apart from him being paid too much, was that he was rather too keen on corporate hospitality and being driven around in BBC cars.

The management’s decision to move about a third of the BBC up to Media City in Salford near Manchester hasn’t gone down very well either as most of the BBC bosses in charge have decided they have compelling reasons to remain in the leafier environs of the smart London suburbs and the Home Counties.

Thompson, as managers do in these circumstances, will probably be gambling that a sacrifice or two (he’s also demoted marketing chief Sharon Baylay and HR director Lucy Adams from the board) will keep the wolves at bay.

But he’s probably wrong. He wants to hang on until the 2012 Olympics to show what the BBC can do to an admiring world. But by dumping Byford he’s acknowledged that his critics have a point.

His best chance of hanging on is probably the difficulty of finding a replacement at short notice for a job that few of broadcasting’s brighter sparks would want to take on in face of a hostile government and media.

His still-redoubtable predecessor Greg Dyke would no doubt take it on again but, somehow or other, you can’t see the Cameroons in Downing Street buying that one.

Michael Grade always wanted the job. No, forget it…

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.