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BBC wants opera exec Hall for top spot

Beleaguered broadcastter has shortage of suitable prospects

LONDON

The BBC wants the CEO of the Royal Opera House to be its new director general.

The question is will Tony Hall, 61, who was the pubcaster’s head of news for years before joining the Royal Opera House in 2001, give up one of the most prestigious and rewarding jobs in British public life?

“There is a high-stakes game going on over the next 48 hours as the BBC hopes to persuade Hall to be its new director general,” said a senior broadcaster. “If Chris Patten (chair of the BBC Trust) doesn’t get Tony Hall, there is no fall-back position.”

Patten needs to find a replacement for George Entwistle, who ankled on Nov. 10 after only 54 days in the job.

Hall is top of his wish list. He is a highly experienced BBC journalist whose talents are desperately needed as the pubcaster attempts to clean up the mess left by massive failures at its flagship public affairs show “Newsnight.”

A year ago “Newsnight” nixed an investigation into sex abuse by BBC star presenter Jimmy Savile, outed as a serial pedophile after his death in Oct. 2011. It then compounded the problem this month by wrongly implying that ex-politician Alistair McApline was a child abuser, an error that led to Entwistle’s resignation.

With so many senior BBC executives damaged by the “Newsnight” affair, there is a lack of top talent inside the Corp. suitable to take over as director general.

Acting director general Tim Davie lacks experience while others, like the current director of news, Helen Boaden, are damaged by the present crisis.

Patten, the former governor of Hong Kong who handpicked Entwistle in July, is therefore looking outside the Beeb for a topper.

Hall, who is also deputy chair of Channel 4, fits the bill. Until 2001 he was CEO of BBC News and launched Radio 5 Live, Blighty’s first 24-hour news and sports radio station, rolling news web BBC News 24 (since re-named BBC News), BBC News Online and BBC Parliament.

But Hall may reject Patten’s plea.

“Hall is very happy where he is,” said media commentator Raymond Snoddy. “Why would he give up a lovely job like running the Royal Opera House to sort out the chaos of the BBC?”

Paying a mere £450,000 ($716,366) a year, the offer might spur Hall to demand generous pension provision and a guarantee that Patten does not interfere in the daily running of the Beeb.

Or he may turn down Patten flat.

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