BBC Trust chairman to exit post in May

Michael Lyons says job proved too time consuming

LONDON -- In an unexpected move, BBC Trust chairman Michael Lyons said Tuesday he will leave the pubcaster in May after serving just one term of office, telling staff and colleagues that the job had proved too time consuming.

Lyons has been widely respected for his handling of the debate over whether the BBC's license fee should be shared with other programmers, seeing off so-called "top-slicing." But the announcement that he will step down next year leaves the BBC with weakened governance in the crucial run-up to the next round of haggling over the BBC license fee, and during the period of overseeing a major strategic review.

In a letter to Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Lyons said the job of BBC Trust chairman had threatened to become all-consuming, and that he had used the summer to decide that he would not seek reappointment.

"The role of chairman has been far more demanding than the nominal three to four days a week in the job specification," Lyons said in the letter, which was later published by the BBC.

"..this workload has now reached a point where I am increasingly concerned that it is crowding out other appointments to which I remain committed and other activity that I wish to undertake."

But chatter around the shock decision suggests that it is more likely related to the fact that Lyons has no appetite to preside over a possible cut to the BBC license fee, implemented by a Tory government that has been markedly unsentimental in its approach to the much-loved institution that Brits love to call "Auntie."

Lyons has also had a fractious relationship with Hunt, who has stated many times that he is not a fan of the BBC's governance model and has been openly critical about the BBC's role and scope.

When the BBC's executive boss Mark Thompson talked up the BBC's global expansion plans at a speech in Edinburgh last month, Culture Secretary Hunt responded curtly that the pubcaster should have more clearly defined limits and not crowd its commercial rivals.

A search will now begin for a successor to Lyons, with some BBC insiders suggesting that Channel 4 chairman Sir Terry Burns might be a potential candidate.

Whether the BBC -- without the protection of a strong chairman -- now finds itself on a collision course with a less than sympathetic government, however, remains to be seen.