Former opera house topper, BBC exec seen as equipped for job

LONDON

The U.K. media community has reacted favorably to the appointment of Tony Hall, the BBC’s former head of news, as the organization’s new director-general.

There is optimism that Hall can get on top of the crisis over the late star presenter Jimmy Savile, recently revealed as a sex criminal, and the libelling of Tory peer Alistair McAlpine by the BBC public affairs show “Newsnight.”

The crisis led previous director-general George Entwistle to resign on Nov. 10 after 54 days in the top job.

Culture minister Maria Miller summed up the feelings of many Brit webheads when, over the weekend, she told British newspaper the Guardian: “What strikes me is that Hall is someone who really does command respect in the industry, a man of ideas, and a man of real experience.”

She added: “It’s clear the BBC have got a grip of the situation, and with three inquires under way, they can learn from what’s gone wrong and make sure it doesn’t go wrong again.”

Even the BBC-bashing Times, owned by Rupert Murdoch, praised Hall. “Tony Hall is the right man to lead the BBC,” it said. “He faces a difficult task restoring credibility…As a 28-year veteran of the BBC, he is well liked within it.

“As the chief executive who revived the fortunes of the Royal Opera House, he is well respected and well connected beyond the confines of Broadcasting House.”

The one dissenting voice who criticized Hall was David Elstein, the ex BSkyB and Channel 5 topper, who opined: “Tony’s an excellent person, who was turned down for the job in 1999 when Greg Dyke was selected and who couldn’t be bothered to apply for the job last time, which is only eight months ago.

“He’s passed the BBC retirement age. I mean, it’s just a sign of how hopeless the BBC trust and its chairman are.”

Hall, hired Nov. 22 by BBC chairman Chris Patten, takes over from acting director-general Tim Davie in March following an 11-year stint running Blighty’s prestigious Royal Opera House.

Prior to joining the ROH, where he brought order to an institution famous for verging on the anarchic, Hall had spent 28 years at the BBC.

As one of the chief lieutenants working for John Birt — the Beeb’s director-general from 1992-2000 — Hall launched the BBC’s domestic rolling news service, then known as News 24, and its widely admired U.K. online news operation.

Hall is renowned for having a cool head in a crisis and for inculcating strong loyalty among his senior staff, although some naysayers regarded him as the deeply unpopular Birt’s hitman.

His experience at the Royal Opera House is likely to prove vital to restoring harmony at the highly dysfunctional, faction-ridden BBC.

As ex-BBC chairman Christopher Bland quipped: “The BBC has almost as many prima donnas as the Royal Opera House.”

The good news for the Beeb is that the low-key Hall will not be one of them, although leading the BBC is likely to prove even tougher than running the Royal Opera House.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more