Lord Hall: From BBC trainee to director-general

·4-min read

Lord Hall’s appointment as the BBC’s director-general had been another coup for a man who boasted a distinguished career in broadcasting and at the helm of major institutions.

Now, just nine months after he left that coveted post at the BBC, his handling of the scandal surrounding journalist Martin Bashir’s interview with Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1995 has seen him quit his new high-profile role as chairman of the National Gallery.

A report by former master of the rolls Lord Dyson found that Mr Bashir had lied and deceived his way into securing his explosive interview with Diana, and the internal investigation led by Lord Hall into the matter was “woefully ineffective”.

He was director of news when Mr Bashir got the 1995 scoop using faked documents.

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Former BBC director-general Lord Hall (Ben Stansall/PA)

Lord Dyson’s report also questioned the role Lord Hall played in the decision to rehire Mr Bashir in 2016, first as religious affairs correspondent, before he became religion editor.

Lord Hall has stepped away from the National Gallery, saying: “I have always had a strong sense of public service and it is clear my continuing in the role would be a distraction to an institution I care deeply about.

“As I said two days ago, I am very sorry for the events of 25 years ago and I believe leadership means taking responsibility.”

Sir John Kingman, who is set to take over as chairman of the National Gallery for the time being, said Lord Hall is “much respected and liked” at the organisation.

Sir John, who is deputy chairman of the National Gallery board of trustees, said the organisation is “extremely sorry to lose him, but of course we entirely understand and respect his decision”.

Lord Hall was born the son of a bank manager in Birkenhead, Merseyside, in 1951.

He was educated at King Edward’s School, Birmingham and Birkenhead School, before studying at Keble College, Oxford, where he read philosophy, politics and economics.

A life peerage in 2010 saw him take a seat in the House of Lords as a crossbencher.

He joined the BBC as a trainee in 1973, working first in its Belfast newsroom before becoming a producer on Today, The World At One and PM.

Aged just 34, he was appointed editor of the Nine O’Clock News.

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The announcement of Lord Hall (right) as director-general, with then BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

In 1990 he was appointed director of BBC news and current affairs, combining TV and radio for the first time.

He led BBC News until 2001, ending a 28-year career at the corporation in which he oversaw the launch of services such as Radio 5 Live, BBC News 24, BBC News Online and BBC Parliament.

He also chaired the board for the Cultural Olympiad, the four-year programme of cultural events that climaxed with the London 2012 festival.

An appointment as chief executive of the Royal Opera House until April 2013 was another high-profile role.

Lord Hall first applied for the BBC director-general job in 1999, but was beaten to it by Greg Dyke, whose tenure lasted until 2004, when he resigned following criticism over his handling of the Hutton Inquiry.

Lord Hall’s time came in November 2012, when he was finally appointed director-general and took up the post in early March 2013.

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Lord Hall, as director-general, announces plans for the BBC’s future (Anthony Devlin/PA)

In one of his first speeches in the role, in October 2013, Lord Hall promised to manage the BBC “robustly but with simplicity and with directness”.

He said: “We are going to reward courage and truth-telling, rather than back-covering and caution.”

Among his achievements were the launch of BBC Sounds, a centralised “digital home” for the BBC’s audio content, and BritBox, a UK streaming service set up with other broadcasters to counter the dominance of US platforms.

But his seven-year tenure was marred by a series of scandals, including the end of the universal TV licence for pensioners, and the broadcaster’s publication of a male-dominated talent pay list.

This inevitably drew attention to Lord Hall’s own salary – £450,000 as of April 2019.

During this time singer Sir Cliff Richard sued the broadcaster over its coverage of the police search of his Berkshire home in 2014.

Sir Cliff agreed a final settlement with the BBC, receiving about £2 million towards his legal costs.

Lord Hall was also director-general when the BBC revamped Top Gear, after presenter Jeremy Clarkson was dropped in 2015 over what bosses called an “unprovoked physical attack” on producer Oisin Tymon.

The broadcaster also lost the Great British Bake Off to Channel 4.

The BBC One baking show was snapped up by the rival broadcaster in 2016 in a deal reportedly worth about £75 million.

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