Lord Hall of Birkenhead quit the BBC on Monday after ministers threatened to appoint a Tory as the corporation’s next chairman and undermine his licence fee deal for the over-75s.
The director-general took staff by surprise when he announced his decision to step down two years earlier than expected.
The 68-year-old will leave in the summer just as the BBC implements its controversial policy requiring more than three million pensioners to pay the licence fee.
The Tories are adamant that the BBC should cover the costs and the Prime Minister has ordered a review which could see non-payment of the fee decriminalised.
The Government will appoint a new chairman to replace Sir David Clementi when his term ends in February next year. Sources said Lord Hall believes the appointee will be sympathetic to the Tory view.
It is understood that the BBC board also wanted a new face to lead the corporation as it fights for survival ahead of Charter Renewal in 2027. Lord Hall’s position has been weakened in recent months by accusations of political bias in the BBC’s reporting, and by his failure to get to grips with an equal pay scandal that shows no sign of abating. The Samira Ahmed case has opened the floodgates for women at the corporation to claim millions in back pay.
“Tony decided some months ago that he was going to go. The one thing that has triggered it is a new chairman coming next year,” a source said.
“It is a political appointment. The Government has made it clear that during the Blair period his acolytes took over [at the BBC], and now it wants someone at the BBC whose views are more in line with theirs.”
The Telegraph understands that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport are mulling over several names to replace Sir David.
Ministers have been visiting other broadcasters and have been impressed by the efficient way they are run with a comparatively small number of staff. One Conservative source said they wanted to see the BBC learn from commercial rivals about how to cut the costs of programme-making.
Lord Hall took over as director-general in 2013 in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal. His predecessor, George Entwistle, had lasted just 54 days.
In 2015, Lord Hall agreed that the BBC would bear the cost of free television licences for the over-75s, insisting at the time that it was a “strong” deal. But last year he announced that more than three million pensioners will have their free licences rescinded.
The BBC insisted it could not afford the £745m annual cost of the free licences, and will save nearly £500 million by charging all over-75s except those who claim pension credit.
Those pleas of poverty sit awkwardly with revelations about BBC over-spending on star salaries. Samira Ahmed’s recent employment tribunal highlighted the fact that Jeremy Vine was paid £3,000 per 15-minute episode of Points of View.
This week Sarah Montague disclosed that she had won £400,000 in back pay after forcing bosses to concede that she had been significantly underpaid in comparison to her male colleagues on Today.
One former BBC governor said Lord Hall had to go: “He has not handled the equal pay issue at all well. He simply didn’t get ahead of it and see what would follow. That’s quite a major failing. Most of all, his handling of the licence fee deal for over-75s was lamentable.”
Friends of the director-general said he had achieved a great deal during his seven years in the job, and equal pay was a problem he inherited. “Tony spent a lot of his time cleaning up other people’s mistakes,” one said.
Lord Hall, who was chief executive of the Royal Opera House before becoming director-general, now plans a return to the arts. His first appointment was announced Monday, as chairman of the trustees at the National Gallery.
In his resignation speech to BBC staff, he said: “If I followed my heart I would genuinely never want to leave. However, I believe that an important part of leadership is putting the interests of the organisation first.”
Lord Hall message to all BBC staff
First of all, thank you for all your comments and feedback since I spoke to you from Cardiff last week. It was really important to me to set a clear direction for us, as well as celebrating some of the outstanding work you’re doing.
My reason for writing is however more personal. I wanted you to be the first to know that I will give my all to this organisation for the next six months, as I have done these last seven years. But in the summer I’ll step down as your Director-General.
It’s been such a hard decision for me. I love the BBC. I’m passionate about our values and the role we have in our country - and what we do globally too.
If I followed my heart I would genuinely never want to leave. However, I believe that an important part of leadership is putting the interests of the organisation first.
The BBC has an eleven-year Charter - our mission is secure until 2027. But we also have a mid-term review process for the spring of 2022. As I said last week, we have to develop our ideas for both. And it must be right that the BBC has one person to lead it through both stages.
Over the next six months my priority, as always, will be to champion this great organisation and continue to direct our re-invention. There’s so much we can do to transform the creative industries around the UK still further and to project this country’s talent and ideas to the world.
Our Chairman, David Clementi, will begin the search for my successor and he’ll let you know how that will work shortly.
We’ll have plenty of time to talk in the months ahead but I’d like to share three thoughts with you today.
First, thanks to you and your great work I believe I’ll be leaving the BBC in a much stronger place than when I joined. It feels a very different organisation - more innovative; more open; more inclusive; more efficient; more commercially aware. And a BBC that's on cracking creative form. You all have my thanks and admiration for the part you’ve played in that success.
Change has been tough at times - and, of course, there’s still more to do. But I believe our recent record of transformation stands comparison with virtually any other creative organisation in the world.
Second, without question, our values have never been more relevant to the society we live in. As our country enters its next chapter it needs a strong BBC, a BBC that can champion the nation's creativity at home and abroad, and help play its part in bringing the UK together.
In an era of fake news, we remain the gold standard of impartiality and truth. What the BBC is, and what it stands for, is precious for this country. We ignore that at our peril.
Finally, we must and can never stand still. We have to keep adapting, reforming and leading. Our values are timeless but the need for constant change is ever-present.
The BBC has changed hugely in recent years - and that’s going to continue. We have to embrace the opportunities it brings.
We’ll be working flat out, across the Executive Committee, to implement the priorities I talked to you about last week, and to demonstrate why public service broadcasting - with the BBC at its heart - is an eternal idea.
Very best wishes,
Reaction to Lord Hall's announcement
Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan said: "Thanks to Tony Hall for the service he has given to the BBC, including the last seven years as director-general.
"He's made a huge contribution to public service broadcasting in his career. In this ever changing broadcast landscape the next director-general will need to build on Lord Hall's success."
June Sarpong, recently appointed as the BBC's first director of creative diversity, tweeted: "It has been my great pleasure and honour to work under the visionary leadership of Tony Hall, I cannot overstate the support he has shown me in helping to start the process of inclusive change at the BBC.
"He will be sincerely missed."
Son of a bank manager who got BBC's top job at second time of asking
Lord Hall - the 16th Director-General of the BBC - was born the son of a bank manager in Birkenhead, Cheshire, 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.
Lord Hall 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.
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.
Lord Hall then worked as chief executive of the Royal Opera House until April 2013.
In 2010 he was made a life peer and took his seat in the House of Lords as a crossbench member.
Lord Hall first applied for the job of Director-General in 1999, but was beaten to the job 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.
He took up the post in early March 2013, when acting director-general Tim Davie stepped down.
In one of his first speeches as Director-General, 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 Lord Hall's 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 Sir Cliff Richard sued the broadcaster over its coverage of the police search of his Berkshire home in 2014.
The singer agreed a final settlement with the BBC, receiving about £2million towards his legal costs.
Lord Hall was also in the role 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
Who will replace Lord Hall?
Former Labour politician James Purnell has been named as the front-runner to succeed Lord Tony Hall as Director-General of the BBC.
A woman could fill the top job for the first time, with Fran Unsworth also touted as a possible replacement.
Bookmakers Ladbrokes are offering odds of 2/1 on Purnell replacing Lord Hall, who is stepping down after seven years in the role.
Current BBC director of news Unsworth has odds of 4/1 to take up the position, while BBC Three controller Fiona Campbell has odds of 5/1.
Former director of radio at the corporation Helen Boaden and Sarah Sands, the editor of BBC Radio 4's Today programme, are also among the list of names touted as possible successors.
Here are some of the people who could be in the running to replace Lord Hall.
The BBC's director of radio and education is currently the bookmakers' favourite to take on the role.
He first worked at the BBC in the 1990s as head of corporate planning but left to become a special adviser to Tony Blair after he became Prime Minister.
Purnell was elected MP for Stalybridge and Hyde, before becoming Culture Secretary then Work and Pensions Secretary.
He resigned from the Government in June 2009, criticising the leadership of Gordon Brown.
Purnell returned to the BBC in 2013 as director of strategy and digital, and took up the role of director of radio and education in 2016.
The BBC director of news began her journalistic career in 1980 in BBC local radio, joining Radio 1's Newsbeat.
Her previous posts included the BBC's home news editor, head of political programmes and head of news gathering.
She was the BBC's acting director of news and current affairs for periods between 2012 and 2013 and was made director of the BBC World Service Group in 2014, overseeing the biggest expansion of the World Service since the 1940s.
In 2018, Ms Unsworth issued a statement outside court after Sir Cliff Richard won a High Court battle over claims the BBC had breached his privacy by broadcasting a police search of his home.
It was Ms Unsworth's decision as deputy director of news at the time, to clear the use of the helicopter-shot footage.
As the BBC's first female Deputy Director-General, Bulford is well-placed to replace Lord Hall.
In January last year she announced she was leaving the BBC after six years as deputy.
She previously worked at Channel 4 as chief operating officer and received an OBE for services to broadcasting in the 2012 Queen's Birthday Honours.
Before that she spent three years working with the Royal Opera House.
Formerly the chief executive of visual effects software developer Foundry, Mahon has been Channel 4's chief executive since 2017.
She took over David Abraham as Channel 4 boss, becoming the first female chief executive of a major UK broadcaster.
Dame Carolyn McCall
The former easyJet boss has been chief executive of ITV since 2018.
Before that she was chief executive of Guardian Media Group.
Her time at the top of ITV has been characterised by the launch of BritBox and increased scrutiny over the broadcaster's reality show aftercare.
Ahmed has served as the editorial director of BBC News since 2018, previously working as the broadcaster's economics editor and business editor.
Before that he worked as political editor of The Observer, business editor of The Sunday Telegraph and director of communications at the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Sands has been at the head of Today, the BBC's flagship news and current affairs radio programme, since she became editor in 2017.
She was appointed the first female editor of The Sunday Telegraph in 2005, and later worked as consultant editor on the Daily Mail and as editor-in-chief of the UK edition of Reader's Digest.
Between 2012 and 2017 she served as editor of the London Evening Standard before taking up her current role at the BBC.
Boaden spent more than 30 years working for the BBC, including as director of radio between 2013 and 2016.
In 2019 she joined the board of the UK Statistics Authority for a period of three years.