“Can anyone survive running the BBC?”
When Tim Davie was briefly catapulted into the BBC Director General role in 2012, amid the fallout from the Jimmy Savile scandal, he put that question to the corporation’s official historian.
His predecessor, George Entwistle, had lasted just 54 days before scandal engulfed his tenure at the top of the world’s largest public service broadcaster.
In that two-month spell, Mr Entwistle was hit by the extraordinary revelations that Jimmy Savile, one of the BBC’s biggest stars, had been a serial child abuser and had molested underage girls on BBC premises.
He was immediately put on the back foot when it emerged that the BBC had quashed a Newsnight investigation into Savile the previous year, just weeks before three tribute programmes were due to be scheduled.
Another botched Newsnight investigation finished Mr Entwistle off, plunging the BBC into the deepest crisis in its history.
In its darkest hour, the corporation turned to Mr Davie, appointing him as temporary Director General in late 2012 in an attempt to restore stability.
Eleven years on, the 56-year-old is now in his second stint in the £525,000 per year top job, proving that you can survive – perhaps even thrive – in one of the most highpressured leadership roles in the world.
But the role has certainly not become any easier. In fact, crisis at the BBC is something which now happens with monotonous regularity.
This year alone, Mr Davie has had to fend off four major scandals – including stars such as Gary Lineker, Huw Edwards and Russell Brand – which most other leaders would not have survived.
However, by retaining the coolest of heads in the most scorching of corporate heat, he did survive – and next month (December) he will be sharing some of his secrets in Aberdeen.
On December 14, he will join Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce at the Marcliffe Hotel for a special business breakfast which will lift the lid on life at the top of the BBC.
So, who is Tim Davie?
A keen marathon runner, Mr Davie was in contention for the role of Chief Executive of the Premier League before landing the BBC job.
He joined the corporation in 2005 as its Head of Marketing, having held a similar role at Pepsi in Europe.
The Cambridge-educated executive has scaled the heights of BBC management for more than a decade.
Following his interim Director General spell in 2012, Mr Davie was appointed permanent Director General in 2020, with a mission to restore “trust and confidence” to the corporation.
The Director General is the Chief Executive Officer of the BBC, its Editor-in-Chief and the person ultimately responsible for its output.
This means he is the man in the firing line when things go wrong, as we have seen on several occasions this year.
Mr Davie started 2023 with a media storm over the corporation’s Chairman, Richard Sharp, who was wounded by an impartiality row regarding his political links.
As Chairman of the BBC’s board, Mr Sharp had been in charge of upholding and protecting the BBC’s independence and ensuring the BBC fulfils its mission to inform, educate and entertain.
But Mr Sharp found himself at the centre of two investigations over his appointment after it emerged he had donated £400,000 to the
Conservatives and helped facilitate an £800,000 loan facility to Boris Johnson, weeks before the then prime minister recommended him for the job.
Suspending Gary Lineker
In the midst of that crisis, another emerged when the BBC’s highestpaid presenter Gary Lineker was suspended and swiftly reinstated in March during another impartiality meltdown that rocked the broadcaster.
The former footballer, who has hosted Match of the Day for almost a quarter of a century, became embroiled in a major row after comparing the language used by the UK Government to launch a new asylum policy with 1930s Germany.
The comparison saw Mr Lineker suspended from the helm of the popular BBC show – prompting several fellow pundits, including Ian Wright, Alan Shearer, and Alex Scott, to announce they would not be taking part in solidarity with the former England striker.
The row resulted in Match of the Day being cut to just 20 minutes of highlights – and calls for Mr Davie to go.
The BBC later performed a swift U-turn to bring Mr Lineker back and apologised to viewers after the row torpedoed its sports coverage.
Mr Davie announced an independent review into what he described as “the potential confusion caused by the grey areas of the BBC’s social media guidance” for freelancers outside news and current affairs. It was also reported that Mr Lineker had received a direct apology for the row.
Huw Edwards scandal
As the dust settled on the Lineker crisis, another emerged from nowhere.
Huw Edwards – to many the face of BBC News – was named as the presenter who had paid a young person £35,000 for sexually explicit images over a period of three years.
His wife identified him as the presenter at the centre of allegations about inappropriate conduct following five days of speculation and mounting claims published across Britain’s media, including by colleagues at BBC News.
She said he was in hospital after a serious mental health episode and would respond to the stories published about him when well enough to do so.
Police later found no evidence of criminality, but Mr Davie said the controversy has been a “difficult
affair” in which the BBC has tried to “calmly and reasonably navigate some difficult concerns”.
And now Russell Brand
More recently, Mr Davie has had to navigate the organisation through allegations about the comedian Russell Brand.
The BBC has pledged to investigate whether Russell Brand used the broadcaster’s taxis to pick up a 16-year-old girl from school.
Mr Davie recently told staff he had now launched a full investigation into Mr Brand’s time working for the corporation between 2006 and 2008, when the comedian presented shows on 6 Music and Radio 2.
In 2008 Brand resigned from the BBC after leaving voicemails for the actor Andrew Sachs about sleeping with his granddaughter.
Mr Davie was the corporation’s Director of Audio when Mr Brand left the messages in 2008 and as a result, he was in charge of investigating the comedian and actor the first time around.
Join us to hear more
So, it is clear that running a gigantic organisation comes with gigantic challenges.
From the pressure-cooker environment of public service journalism, to dealing with legacy scandals that rocked the British institution to its core, the former Comic Relief chairman has rarely had a quiet moment since taking the top job.
Join us for this special Business Breakfast to hear how he has navigated some of the most difficult corporate challenges imaginable, whilst plotting a digital future for this pillar of British life.
To book a ticket at the Chamber’s ‘Inside the BBC’ Business Breakfast, click the button below. Limited spaces remain.