United Kingdom

ANDREW PIERCE looks at the BBC's new director-general Tim Davie

When Slovenia recently became the 50th country to make its own Strictly Come Dancing under BBC licence, there was a broad smile on Tim Davie’s face as he sat in his office at Broadcasting House.

As head of BBC Worldwide, he masterminded an effective overseas sales drive of BBC staples such as Strictly and Top Gear.

‘If Tim was required to perform the conga to foreign TV executives to sell the programme, you can be certain he would have done it. He’s so ambitious,’ said one former BBC colleague of the new director-general.

While most of those who have landed BBC’s top job have an editorial or programme-making background, Davie is a marketing man.

BBC's new director-general Tim Davie is a 'shampoo marketer who would do the conga if it helped sales', says Andrew Pierce

He started his career at Procter & Gamble working on Crest toothpaste and Vidal Sassoon shampoo accounts. He was working for Pepsi when he was headhunted by the BBC in 2005.

The fact the BBC has picked a marketing figure to lead the organisation in its centenary year in 2022 speaks volumes about where the board sees future challenges.

For example, the corporation is increasingly facing commercial threats from Amazon, Apple and Netflix.

There is also a growing clamour on the Tory benches for a review of the licence fee as more and more young people turn away from watching traditional TV.

As an executive who has been on the BBC board for so long, Davie is the most qualified internal candidate. But unusually for a BBC executive, he is a Tory

‘Tim Davie has got the most punishing job in British if not European broadcasting,’ said one industry executive.

But he will have the stamina for the role. He is an accomplished marathon runner having finished the London race in a creditable three hours and 12 minutes. 

He has also run the gruelling six-day, 151-mile Marathon des Sables across the Sahara desert, with daytime temperatures reaching 35C (95F).

‘Perfect training for survival in the BBC broadcast jungle,’ said the industry source.

As an executive who has been on the BBC board for so long, Davie is the most qualified internal candidate. But unusually for a BBC executive, he is a Tory.

At Cambridge University – where he studied English – he joined the college Conservative society. In the 1990s he stood as a Tory candidate in a safe Labour seat on Hammersmith Council.

One of his first tasks will be to deal with the No 10 complaint on a Panorama programme which quoted NHS critics of the Tory Government without acknowledging their (invariably Labour) political affiliations.

One Government figure said: ‘He is a classic David Cameron centrist Tory. But if there’s one criticism, he does too much management speak. 

'I used to take private wagers on how quickly he’d say “if you look under the bonnet” or “there isn’t much road left to travel”. It gets to all BBC execs in the end.’

Tim Davie will replace Tony Hall as BBC Director-General in September. He says he 'honoured to be appointed' to the role

In 2008 he was the newly appointed head of BBC radio during the row over Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand’s abusive phone calls to Andrew Sachs.

They left deeply offensive messages on the veteran Fawlty Towers actor’s answer machine about his granddaughter. The outcry led to a £150,000 Ofcom fine for the corporation and Davie was judged to have been too slow to criticise the presenters.

And he has briefly tasted the top job already. In 2012 the director-general George Entwistle resigned over his botched response to BBC2’s Newsnight which wrongly alleged that former Tory Treasurer Lord McAlpine was a paedophile. 

Appointed as temporary dirctor-general for several months, Davie went in front of the cameras on his first day to restore calm.


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But he caused outrage by not wearing a tie. One irate licence-fee payer sent him a tie in the post. The next time he had to go before the cameras he was wearing it.

When the BBC’s production arm merged with Worldwide to form BBC Studios, Davie became its new chief executive.

He is in charge of the commercial activities of the BBC, which sells shows such as Doctor Who worldwide, and generated £1.2billion in revenue in 2018 – the year he was awarded a CBE for services to international trade.

Last year he was offered the job of running the football Premier League and he has been linked to big posts at Channel 4. 

But his heart was always with the BBC and he was only narrowly pipped at the post when Lord Hall took over from the hapless George Entwistle in 2012.

Davie, 53, was brought up in Croydon, south London, and was the first of his family to go to university. His father was a wine and beer salesman and his mother a teacher. He won a scholarship to attend Whitgift School with £33,000 fees. 

‘My base wiring is Blue Peter, suburban Britain. The BBC was absolutely part of what I was,’ he said in a rare interview.

He is married to Anne and they have three children. They live in Henley-on-Thames – a few miles from Lord Hall who he’s replacing as director-general.

One BBC presenter who thought the corporation should have picked an outsider said: ‘It’s the perfect metaphor for the BBC’s lack of innovation.

‘They can’t even branch out beyond Lord Hall’s neighbourhood in picking his successor.’

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