Sir Michael Checkland will step down as director-general of the British Broadcasting Corp. this Christmas, two months earlierthan planned, it was announced Tuesday.

Deputy director-general John Birt will take over the top job.

Birt was controversially nominated as Checkland’s successor more than a year ago, despite the fact that Checkland himself was keen to carry on in the post for another five-year term.

Checkland’s early retirement follows his uncharacteristic outburst last month , when he accused BBC chairman Marmaduke Hussey of being too old for the job, and criticized the way Hussey had handled Birt’s appointment as his replacement.

Checkland subsequently apologized for his remarks, but speculation grew that he would be forced to stand down before his term officially ended in February.

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