The MT Interview: The BBC's Mark Thompson

With the BBC under threat of break-up, is the broadcaster's current director-general the man to save it?

by Andrew Davidson

Big and bristly, Mark Thompson strides into the Radio 1 boardoom and grins sheepishly. He's been downstairs in the studios having his picture taken, and he seems relieved to be at the wordy bit of the interview. He's wearing a suit that doesn't hang like a fashion buy, he's got sweat rings under his shirtsleeves, and he's sporting a ginger beard shorn to the same length as his balding hair. In short, he looks a bit of a rumpled mess.

Then he starts talking, and you realise there's nothing haphazard in the cortex: intellect, charm, good humour and a dose of ambition are all smoothly blended. Thompson, 52, son of a suburban accountant, has been director general of the BBC for five years now, heading the world's greatest public-service broadcaster while generally keeping his own name out of the headlines. Ask most people in Britain who runs the BBC and they wouldn't have a clue - though they'd have an opinion about a lot else at the organisation that is a lynchpin in the country's political, cultural and journalistic life.

And maybe Thompson likes it that way: hunkered down, running his executive team and just occasionally, when a crisis demands, popping up to take some flak with a cautious defence.

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