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Puttnam aborts BBC mission

Former producer opts for quiet life in Ireland

LONDON — Former film producer and Columbia Pictures boss David Puttnam surprised the U.K. media industry by saying he will not be applying for the job of BBC chairman after all.

Puttnam, deputy chairman of Channel 4, was widely perceived as the favorite to succeed Michael Grade, who stunned the Beeb by quitting to join ITV, where he started work as executive chairman in January.

Writing Thursday in U.K. right-of-center newsmagazine the Spectator, Puttnam said after a month of agonizing, he will not put his name forward to head the BBC Trust, created as a replacement for the board of governors.

In the article he called on the Trust to criticize BBC management “in response to issues of public concern, such as the sometimes offensive salaries paid to key talent.”

The BBC was attacked last year for paying one of its leading presenters, Jonathan Ross, £18 million ($35 million) for a three-year contract, a huge sum for TV talent in Blighty.

“I will continue to be a vocal supporter of the BBC and all that, at its best, it continues to represent,” Puttnam added. “As an institution it is far from perfect, but it does continue to offer the possibility of an eventual victory for sanity over nihilism in the evolution of the nation’s media output.”

Puttnam was quoted in the Guardian as saying: “It’s the right decision for me. The bottom line is that having reached a point in my life at which, living in Ireland, I have never been happier, I couldn’t find a way of justifying the possibility of upsetting that.”

Wednesday was the deadline for applicants for the job of BBC chairman, who will effectively be chosen by U.K. media minister Tessa Jowell.

Following Puttnam’s announcement, the smart money is likely to shift to veteran BBC broadcaster David Dimbleby, who has applied unsuccessfully for the job in the past.

Another possibility is that the BBC could end up with its first female chair.

Chitra Bharucha, vice chair of the Trust, and Liz Forgan, a former topper at Channel 4, both are reckoned to be in the running.

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