Are two Lords better than one? Lord (Tony) Hall quits the opera to join Lord Patten at the Beeb

Admittedly Lord Hall – one-time BBC head of news Tony Hall – isn’t quite as grand as former Tory minister and last governor of Hong Kong Lord (Chris) Patten but it’s a sign that egalitarianism in the UK never quite made it across the line that both the chairman and the new director general of the BBC are members of the House of Lords.

At least Hall didn’t go to Eton, unlike just about everyone else running the country (including the newly-appointed Archbishop of Canterbury), although he did go to Oxford, alma mater of most top BBC types including his unfortunate and short-lived predecessor George ‘Incurious’ Entwistle.

So will Tony be any better than George?

Hall (left) has a long track record in BBC News but then so did Entwistle and sidelined BBC head of news Helen Boaden who, even if they did see a car crash coming with Newsnight’s disastrous delvings into Jimmy Savile and Lord McAlpine, completely failed to do anything about it.

Hall pitched for the top job in 2000 but was deemed not heavyweight enough to prevent outsider Grey Dyke, himself hardly un homme serieux in some respects, getting it. He then departed to run the Royal Opera House and the UK’s ‘Cultural Olympiad,’ apparently with some success. But neither were the most taxing of roles, even the dimmest bureaucrat wouldn’t have let Jimmy Savile anywhere near them.

Patten has no doubt appointed Hall because he seems him as a safe pair of hands, a long-time BBC insider with a career in news who has also done something else tolerably well.

But the real problem, as we’ve said, is that the D-G, in effect the CEO, is also the editor in chief. That’s too much for any one person when the shit hits the fan. Maybe Hall will do the sensible thing and appoint someone as his deputy who can watch out for such potential disasters. Mark Byford, who was deputy D-G for a long period under Mark Thompson, fulfilled this role. But he was made redundant because he ‘wasn’t needed’ and cost too much. He probably did cost too much but he, or someone like him, was certainly needed.

As for former Pepsico man Tim Davie he hardly covered himself in glory in his brief tenure as acting D-G, walking out of a Sky News interview after some gentle needling and not wearing a tie (yes, it’s true, but this is the BBC and the UK).

Hall landed on his feet when he bounced from the Beeb to The Royal Opera House. Let’s hope his lucky streak has a bit further to run.

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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.