Tony Hall to step down as BBC director general
Hall, who is to take over as chair of National Gallery, will leave corporation in summer
Tony Hall: ‘It’s been such a hard decision for me. I love the BBC.’ Photograph: Ben Stansall/PA Media
Tony Hall is to stand down as the director general of the BBC after seven years in the role.
Lord Hall of Birkenhead, who was parachuted in to rehabilitate the corporation after the Jimmy Savile scandal, said the BBC needed a new leader before its negotiations with the government over the future of the licence fee and the renewal of its royal charter.
Hall will take over as chair of the National Gallery. The post has been vacant since September last year when Hannah Rothschild stepped down.
“It’s been such a hard decision for me,” he wrote in an email to staff on Monday. “I love the BBC … If I followed my heart I would genuinely never want to leave.” Hall said he would continue to work flat out “to demonstrate why public service broadcasting – with the BBC at its heart – is an eternal idea”.
Hall will stand down in the summer, giving his successor time in the role ahead of the mid-term review of the BBC’s charter in 2022. The prime minister has issued thinly veiled threats about potentially abolishing the licence fee and decriminalising non-payment of the £154.50 annual fee.
The culture secretary, Nicky Morgan, has also said she is “open-minded” about replacing the licence fee with a Netflix-style subscription service.
Some insiders thought Hall might stay in place until the BBC’s centenary in 2022; however, he has decided to leave to give his successor enough time to lead talks with the government over the mid-term review.
Hall said: “The BBC has an 11-year charter – our mission is secure until 2027. But we also have a mid-term review process for the spring of 2022.”
Referring to his speech at the BBC’s Welsh headquarters in Cardiff last week, he said: “As I said last week, we have to develop our ideas for both. And it must be right that the BBC has one person to lead it through both stages.
“Over the next six months my priority, as always, will be to champion this great organisation and continue to direct our reinvention. There’s so much we can do to transform the creative industries around the UK still further and to project this country’s talent and ideas to the world.”
Hall said he felt he was “leaving the BBC in a much stronger place than when I joined”, adding: “It feels a very different organisation – more innovative; more open; more inclusive; more efficient; more commercially aware. And a BBC that’s on cracking creative form. You all have my thanks and admiration for the part you’ve played in that success.”
Hall, 68, used his departure announcement to send a message to the government, which took issue with the corporation’s coverage of the general election, defending the corporation and its place in the modern media landscape.
He also praised the values of the BBC, saying the corporation must continue to “champion the nation’s creativity at home and abroad, and help play its part in bringing the UK together”.
He added: “In an era of fake news, we remain the gold standard of impartiality and truth. What the BBC is, and what it stands for, is precious for this country. We ignore that at our peril.”
His departure from the role comes amid a turbulent time for the broadcaster, with issues around equal pay disputes, political bias, diversity and TV licences at the top of its agenda.
David Clementi, the chair of the BBC, paid tribute to Hall in a statement, describing him as “an inspirational creative leader”. Clementi will lead the hunt for Hall’s replacement over the coming months.
He added: “Responsibility for appointing his successor lies with the BBC board. Within the next few weeks we will publish a job description and advertise the job, seeking candidates within the corporation and externally. We are committed to selecting the best qualified person for the job.”
Headhunters will soon be appointed to help the BBC’s board find Hall’s replacement. Many in the industry feel that the time is right for the BBC to have its first female director general after Caroline Thomson narrowly lost out to George Entwistle seven years ago.
Insiders have noted that the timing of Hall’s departure means that the new director general will be chosen by Clementi, who is popular within the BBC, rather than a successor of the government’s choosing. While the BBC chair is appointed by the Queen the appointment is made on the recommendation of the culture secretary.
Names being mentioned as potential candidates include Sharon White, the former chief executive of media regulator Ofcom who now chairs John Lewis Partnership;Gail Rebuck, the chair of the British arm of book publishing giant Penguin Random House; and the Channel 4 chief executive, Alex Mahon.
Internal candidates being mooted to succeed Hall include the corporation’s director of content, Charlotte Moore; its director of radio and education, James Purnell; and the director of news and current affairs, Fran Unsworth.
Hall has led the BBC since early March 2013, when he took the reins from the acting director general, Tim Davie. The former chief executive of the Royal Opera House was appointed in a secret, emergency process as a steady hand to restore trust in the broadcaster following the fallout from the Savile scandal. Davie was appointed a week and a half after the departure of his predecessor George Entwistle. Entwistle held the post for 54 days, the shortest tenure of any director general in the BBC’s history.
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