Jimmy Savile scandal left BBC frantic: Chris Patten

Chris Patten describes broadcaster as badly run, and unable to deal with chaos unleashed by allegations former TV host was paedophile

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 February, 2013, 3:31am

Chris Patten, the BBC Trust chairman, has painted a vivid picture of the chaos that engulfed the corporation's senior management during last autumn's Jimmy Savile crisis, saying there was an impression of "frantic faffing about" around former director general George Entwistle.

In 3,000 pages of e-mails and interviews published yesterday, the BBC's top officials have harsh words for the institutional culture of BBC, which has seen its reputation been tarnished by a paedophilia scandal.

During his appearance before the BBC internal inquiry on the Savile scandal, Patten blamed the "horrible screw-up" surrounding the scandal on the management legacy of the corporation's former director general Mark Thompson, as well as the failings of his successor Entwistle.

Patten's evidence lifts the lid on both the extraordinary 54 days of Entwistle's reign as director general - he resigned in November after being overwhelmed by the Savile scandal in which the late broadcaster was accused of serial child abuse - but also "a silo" management structure that he inherited from Thompson, who left the BBC in September.

[Patten] said the corporation under Thompson, director general for eight years, had 'more senior leaders than China'

He said the corporation under Thompson, director general for eight years, had "more senior leaders than China", with 25 to 27 staff on the senior management team. "They never met," Patten added.

But he added that it was not lack of management at the BBC that caused things to be "horribly screwed up" during the Savile crisis - the problem was the weak team around Entwistle.

"I don't think the BBC needs more senior people in order to avoid making basic mistakes," Patten said.

Patten said Entwistle's lack of knowledge of Newsnight's Savile sex-abuse investigation, which was abandoned in December of 2011, was ironic given how frequently during his interview for the top post he referred to the silo culture that had taken root under Thompson.

The BBC corporate PR team also comes in for some heavy fire. Patten said that the BBC's communications were "chaotic", and that some of the advice that Entwistle was getting "for example on some of his own appearances, was, I think, pretty bizarre".

By way of contrast, he added that acting director general Tim Davie, who took over when Entwistle resigned in November, had "two or three experienced people around him" and there was no longer this "impression of frantic faffing about" when he walks into his office.

I don't think the BBC needs more senior people in order to avoid making basic mistakes

Entwistle recalled how Meirion Jones, the Newsnight investigations producer who worked on the ditched Savile story, waited outside a lift for 20 minutes to half an hour in the hope of catching him to discuss the issue.

But Entwistle said he refused to talk to him because he thought Jones would leak to The Guardian or The Times "before he got the words out of his mouth".

Leading BBC presenter Jeremy Paxman says it has recruited many people "who are clearly not the most creative". The host of the "Newsnight" programme said it was well-known that Savile had a penchant for young girls.

It was "common knowledge that Jimmy Savile liked, you known, young - it was always assumed to be girls," Paxman said, according to transcripts.

While the Pollard review, which interviewed 19 people, ruled that no undue pressure was put on editors to drop the investigation into Savile, it cited an inability at the BBC to deal with the events that followed, noting the "level of chaos and confusion" was even greater than was clear at the time.

Additional reporting by Associated Press, Bloomberg