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LONDON — Mark Thompson will step down as director general of the BBC in the fall, shortly after the London Olympics.
Thompson, who has been in the job since 2004, ended weeks of water-cooler speculation over the timing of his exit, telling BBC staff Monday that after the Olympics would be an appropriate time to “hand over” to a successor.
His decision immediately sparked speculation about who is in the running for what is regarded as the most powerful job in British television. Names include the BBC’s head of news Helen Boaden and the pubcaster’s COO Caroline Thompson. Should either emerge with the job, it would be the first female director general in the Beeb’s long and illustrious history.
He told BBC Trust chairman Chris Patten of the timing of his departure in a meeting Monday morning. The Trust already has embarked on the process of finding Thompson’s successor and is widely reported to have hired a headhunter firm to draw up a long list.
Said Thompson, “We can address the exact date of the handover once an appointment is made, though I have made it clear that I want to be guided by the wishes of the Trust and of my successor, whoever that may be.”
An exact departure date has not been determined.
“Rather amazingly, with nearly eight years in the job, I am already the longest-serving director general since the 1970s,” Thompson told BBC staffers. “Over those eight years, we’ve weathered a series of lively storms and been through some trying as well as some very successful times together. What has made my job not just bearable but immensely enjoyable and rewarding is all of you: your talent and energy, your unshakable belief in the BBC and everything it stands for.”
“Lively storms” for the outgoing DG have included the circumstances of his taking up the post in June 2004 in the wake of the Hutton report, which had led to the resignation of the previous director general Greg Dyke and chairman Gavyn Davies.
Also on his watch, Thompson had to deal with the fallout from the BBC expenses row, storms surrounding high-profile star broadcasters including Jonathan Ross and a tapestry of stories about viewers being misled with fake footage.
He also oversaw swinging cuts to the broadcaster’s staffing and costs after the most recent license-fee settlement and the ongoing move of some BBC departments from the British capital to the new MediaCity complex in Manchester.
He told staff it was down to their efforts that the BBC he leaves “is so much stronger than the BBC I inherited back in 2004.”
“Trust and approval are at record highs, our services are in brilliant creative form, and we’ve demonstrated beyond contradiction that the BBC can be just as much of a leader and innovator in the digital age as we once were in the analog one,” Thompson said.
Said Patten: “Mark Thompson has been an outstanding director general of the BBC. He took over during a traumatic period in the corporation’s history and subsequently enhanced its reputation for creativity and quality while setting the course for the BBC’s digital future. I will miss him on both a personal and professional level.”
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