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Talking the Michael

Wednesday, November 29, 2006 by

If anyone can sort out ITV, Grade’s the man. There’s really nobody else. Well, there is, but when Greg Dyke was asked about it the other week he reckoned Pol Pot had more chance of getting the job.

In truth Grade was in the wrong office at the BBC. He should have been Director-General. That would have given him the licence to deploy those legendary black arts of scheduling, besides handing him the excuse to do shameless photo opportunities with cast members from all the Beeb’s top shows, plus be far more of a charismatic, avuncular and likable public figure than Mark Thompson.

All of these things he’ll now be able to do at ITV, but only because the network got into such a mess in the first place that it had to merge the roles of chief executive and chairman in order to make the job of running the place in any way appealing.

As BBC chairman all we only really saw of Grade were his dry turns at government committee hearings and corporate conferences. Maybe he made a difference internally, aiding morale and boosting the BBC’s self-confidence. Externally, you sense his departure won’t make any difference at all.

Christopher Bland, another former BBC chairman, made an insightful point on the¬†Today¬†programme yesterday morning. Grade, he argued, had more or less done himself out of a proper job anyway by sanctioning the replacement of the governors with the BBC Trust. Grade was to have been chair of this new body, but equipped, by definition, with far less authority to meddle as he had when chair of the governors. Sensing he was about to see out the rest of his days in the most emasculated job he’d had for decades, Bland reasoned, Grade was already looking for a reason to jump when ITV came calling.

It’s fair to say whenever Grade’s done a job where he hasn’t had the power to put some stick about – when he was creative director of the Dome, or chair of Camelot, or looking after his dad’s old service stations – he’s come unstuck.

Now he’s got the whole of ITV to play with. He got a standing ovation when he showed up at the network’s offices, just like he did when he made his first appearance in the BBC as chairman. In both cases it was deserved. If he makes ITV the powerhouse it once was, however, he’ll have pulled off the biggest success of his career.

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