Tim Davie, who has just been unveiled as the BBC’s next Director General, had a particular technique when talking to large gatherings of staff. Before beginning his spiel, he would ask us if it would be ok if he removed his jacket. I can’t imagine any of us were going to object, but in this small act he achieved two things. First, by asking our permission, he seemed to be according us a degree of respect and, secondly, by removing his jacket, he gave the impression of informality. He didn’t need to ask us if he could remove his tie, because he rarely wore one and it was that same informality that drew some criticism the last time he was given the top job. That was back in 2012, after fallout from the Jimmy Savile scandal claimed the head of George Entwistle. I remember meeting Tim in his office in the days before Entwistle’s departure. I had gone to London for yet another meeting to discuss budget cuts and popped in to see Tim with a tiny idea I’d had about an online comedy calendar. Tim was in charge of BBC Audio and Music at the time and I thought he could give us access to the BBC archive of radio comedy to make the calendar a reality. I could not have picked a worst moment to talk to him because he was clearly distracted by the internal shenanigans at the BBC’s top level.
“I was having a conversation with my wife last night,” he told me, “And we were trying to think who they will choose to be the acting DG if George is forced to resign. We worked out it might be me. It’s frightening.”
And they did choose him, of course, because more likely candidates were already embroiled in the Savile scandal and others were trying to distance themselves from the story. It was a horrible time and I remember programme makers in Scotland were feeling the shame of working for an organisation that had harboured one of Britain’s worst paedophiles. One producer told me she had been harangued while trying to record material for an arts programme. Others were so distressed by the situation that they were in tears.
I had once met Savile at a Radio Hall of Fame gathering in London. I wrote about that in the Red Light Zone He was a grotesque character who had gone around every table after being presented with his award. In his shiny tracksuit and coloured sunglasses, he had laid hands on every second woman’s shoulders as he offered his thanks for the honour. Most of them shivered at his touch. I had also written about the encounter on my BBC blog, but when the scandal broke, that entry was removed on the grounds of “taste”.
A few days after my comedy calendar meeting, Tim was named as acting DG and news crews were waiting for him when he arrived at work that morning, tie-less as usual and clutching a paper cup of takeaway coffee. The attacks began almost immediately, and everything was thrown at him including a good dollop of class prejudice about his “barrow boy” background. I’m sure he was glad to hand the job over to Tony Hall and go on to more fun things as Director of BBC Worldwide.
I had two other memorable encounters with Tim Davie. One was when he addressed a meeting of staff at Pacific Quay and told us that the quota system that guaranteed a nine percent share of commissions for television producers in Scotland would never apply to those of us who worked in radio. I felt I had no alternative to stand up and object to that if, for no other reason, so that my own staff could see that I didn’t agree. My last encounter came when I applied for the job as Director of BBC Scotland. The interview went well until we got into the topic of Brexit and I lambasted the BBC’s news coverage of that story as shallow and personality driven. Tim, probably remembering my outburst at the last staff meeting, suggested I might be not be a good ambassador for the Corporation. Well, maybe he was right. Lets face it, I’m the kind of bloke who leaves and then writes a ‘laugh ‘n’ tell’ book about what it was like to work there. Still available from all online retailers at £8.99, by the way.