John Birt

From Academic Kids

John Birt, Baron Birt (born 10 December 1944), served as the Director-General of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) from 1992 to 2000, having previously been deputy director-general since 1987. He also served as the Director of Programmes at London Weekend Television between 1982 and 1987. Sir John was awarded the life peerage in 1999, and took his seat in March 2000. Birt was born in Liverpool and educated at St Mary's College, Liverpool and St Catherine's College, Oxford.

Between 1966 and 1972 he was a Current Affairs Producer at Granada Television after which he worked at London Weekend Television where as Editor of Weekend World he had the fortune of employing Peter Mandelson as a researcher. Birt worked his way up at LWT alongside Michael Grade where the two formed a career animosity.

Birt became a hate figure for many on the Left, who were often still lamenting the sacking of Alasdair Milne by the Thatcher government in 1987 - his complex internal market reforms of the BBC were hated by many of its employees, and were dismantled by his successor Greg Dyke. Dennis Potter, in particular, elevated Birt to the level of a folk devil shortly before his death. Birt was a source of immediate controversy following his appointment when it was revealed he was being employed as a consultant and therefore writing off numerous personal expenses against tax. While acceptable in the private sector most considered the role of Director General a Public Trust appointment and under Political Pressure Birt negotiated to become a BBC employee. In the process Birt had to give up his shares in LWT that formed part of his final salary settlement. In 1994 when LWT was brought out by Granada Television this meant that Birt lost out on several million pounds.

However, it has been convincingly argued that without those reforms and Birt's relatively Conservative-friendly persona, the BBC would not have secured its charter renewal in the 1990s, and Birt was responsible for a major modernisation of much BBC programming, not least the removal of Simon Bates, Dave Lee Travis and other veteran DJs from Radio 1, which was reformed as a much more youth-orientated station (though the channel's popularity declined), and the demise of the Paul Daniels Magic Show and similar outmoded variety formats on BBC1. Birt also invested heavily in Digital Broadcast resources for the BBC but this was criticised at being at the expense of the BBC's core programming with BBC grandees such as John Tusa launching attacks.

Preceded by:
Michael Checkland
Director-General of the BBC
Followed by:
Greg Dyke
2000-Jan 2004

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