BBC top duo of Entwistle and Patten caught asleep at the wheel as Jimmy Savile horror story unfolds

You have to feel for new BBC director-general George Entwistle – no, not that way – who has walked into the biggest minefield the corporation has faced since Andrew Gilligan’s carelessly-worded (but true) allegation about Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell’s conning of the nation about the need to invade Iraq. Which resulted in the departure of one his predecessors Greg Dyke.

The Jimmy Savile affair gets worse and worse, with more allegations emerging daily about the late DJ’s predilection for groping anything in sight, preferably in a wheelchair. And all the time the Beeb was giving him headroom and houseroom, while the nabobs of ‘light entertainment’ looked the other way. As indeed were various hospitals – hospitals!

Anyway Entwistle and his boss BBC chairman Chris Patten have finally woken up and backtracked on their initial position that the Beeb wouldn’t investigate these matters until the police had finished their criminal investigation – which Entwistle was still holding to on the Today programme on Monday although he’d changed his mind by about 10.30 that morning.

So now they’re launching two investigations: one into the unrestrained and, probably, illegal bonking that went on in the Beeb’s White City broadcast HQ and the second, really worrying for Entwistle, into the decision to drop a Newsnight report on Savile’s dirty doings last year. Coincidentally other bits of the Beeb were planning glowing tributes to the late DJ and his charitable initiatives (which we now know came at a rather high price, for some of the unfortunates involved).

Entwistle is up to his neck in the latter as the then head of BBC Vision, the top programme boss. If he didn’t know about this internal conflict of interest he bloody well should have done. He’s also a former Newsnight editor.

But you feel for Entwistle, he’s clearly out of his depth. But that might not save him.

And what about Patten? In terms of the BBC’s pathetic response he’s even more culpable. He’s supposed to be a wily old politician and an ace communicator. When the shit hits the fan these days you apologise to all and sundry (get your reverse retaliation in first) and then you can deal with subsequent revelations/developments on the front foot.

Entwistle looks like a rabbit in the headlights. Patten looks as though he was asleep at the wheel.

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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.