Career included spells at BBC, ITN
LONDON — Bob Phillis, one of British media’s most experienced and highly regarded senior managers, has died, aged 64, following extensive treatment for cancer.
Phillis, who became deputy director general of the BBC after running the organization’s commercial arm, BBC Worldwide, had one of the most impressive careers in the U.K. communications sector.
He came to the fore in TV circles running the pioneering ITV combo, Central Television, in the 1980s subsequently becoming CEO of the U.K. broadcast news org ITN from 1991-1993.
For much of the rest of the 1990s, he worked at the BBC, initially in charge of BBC Enterprises before it changed its name to BBC Worldwide.
At Worldwide, Phillis negotiated the joint venture with Flextech that created the UKTV channels biz, now a partnership between Worldwide and cable outfit Virgin Media.
For a year he ran the BBC World Service. There he was responsible for taking the broadcaster off Star TV, owned by News Corp., to prevent it from being controlled by the Chinese government.
In 1997, after serving as John Birt’s deputy director-general at the corp., Phillis took the helm at U.K. newspaper and magazine firm, Guardian Media Group, where he remained until 2006.
Phillis’ genial manner, business acumen and tireless support for public service broadcasting made him a unique and much-valued presence in the often fractious world of British media where his diplomatic skills were constantly in demand.
Latterly he served as president of the Royal Television Society, the educational charity that serves as a debating forum for the U.K. TV sector.
Despite his illness, Phillis was very much in evidence at the RTS’s biannual Cambridge Convention held in September.
In Cambridge, he was warmly applauded by colleagues from all sides of the TV industry, who knew of his long-standing health problem that had led to several spells in hospital during recent years.
Mark Thompson, the BBC’s director general, said: “Bob Phillis made an enormous contribution to British media, in particular at the Guardian Media Group, commercial television and at the BBC.
“He will be remembered as an inspirational leader but also as a warm-hearted, loyal, friend and colleague. We will miss him enormously.”
Michael Lyons, the chairman of the BBC Trust, added: “I was very saddened to hear today that Bob Phillis had died.
“He made an invaluable contribution to the BBC during his time here, and remained a major figure in broadcasting, not least through his leadership of the RTS.
“He was a friend and guide to many in the industry: this is a loss to us all.”
Phillis was a board director at ITV from 2005-07 and chaired an independent review of U.K. government communications in 2004.