Janet Smith’s review: alcohol-addled bosses and louche management style laid bare
By David Hencke, Alex Varley-Winter and Mark Watts | 20 January 2016
Embarassing insight into how the BBC treats celebrities with “kid gloves” and its past alcohol-fuelled management culture is revealed in Dame Janet Smith’s inquiry report.
The retired judge’s draft report of her “review” of the paedophile activities at the BBC by Sir Jimmy Savile, the broadcaster’s late star presenter, and leaked to Exaro, reveals how bosses engaged in heavy drinking at licence-fee payers’ expense and adopted a louche management style.
In a damning chapter on the BBC’s management culture, she explains employees’ reluctance to report Savile even where they were themselves his victims. She writes: “The first reason why this would be so was because of the deference or even adulation which was, and still is, accorded to celebrity in our society.
“The talent… were ‘more valuable than the values’”
– Peter Scott-Morgan, BBC consultant, cited in Smith report
“The second reason was because of the attitude within the BBC towards the ‘talent’. The general perception of the witnesses I heard was that the talent was treated with kid gloves and never challenged.”
She refers to a comment by Peter Scott-Morgan, who was engaged as a consultant for the BBC in 2003 as part of the initiative known as ‘Making it Happen’ instigated by Greg Dyke, then the director-general. He was tasked with trying to establish what were the unwritten rules of behaviour within the BBC.
She writes: “Dr Scott-Morgan used an expression that I think encapsulated the general attitude towards the talent. He said that they were ‘more valuable than the values’. By this, he meant that a member of the talent could be so influential in the BBC or so important to the success of a programme that he or she could get away with conduct that flew in the face of the values of the BBC. Managers would not challenge them.”
She concludes: “A degree of misconduct by members of the talent would be tolerated by, for example, the producer of a programme. It was important to keep the star of the show happy.
“The producers of programmes on which Savile worked did not ask him to stop his habit of wet kissing or licking the hands and arms of staff members to whom he was introduced. I am sure they would not have wished to upset the star of the show.”
In her chapter on management culture, she writes: “Until the late 1980’s, most BBC managers had drinks cabinets in their rooms. The cabinets were replenished at public expense. Many informal meetings would be conducted with the aid of alcohol. Even early morning coffee might be laced with a spirit.
“I heard accounts of executives and managers being the worse for wear in the afternoons or at evening engagements.”
“A lot of alcohol was drunk at controller’s lunches, which occurred on Wednesdays. Little work was done afterwards.
“I heard accounts of managers who would meet in the Club when it opened either at 11.30am or noon and would remain there, drinking, until it was almost time for last orders in the ‘waitress service’ restaurant.
“Late lunch would also be accompanied by alcohol. Some staff found that, if they wanted a decision from their line managers, they had to see them before the drinking began; it would be no good afterwards.”
Not everyone was part of the drinking culture, she stresses. ”Some people would hardly visit the Club for weeks on end, while they were working on a particular series but then, when the series was over, there would be a period when they were under less pressure and visits to the Club could be frequent and long.
“It seems that, while it lasted, the drinking culture was part of the BBC’s ‘work hard, play hard’ ethos.”
A researcher on BBC1’s Jim’ll Fix It between 1987 and 1989 told Smith of an interview for possible promotion “by a head of department and a senior producer, both lying on sofas with their shoes and socks off, watching the television.
“He painted a picture of two powerful individuals who felt that they could behave as they liked and did not show any respect to those more junior.
“Plainly, if those were the management styles or if that was how they were perceived, the refer-upwards option would not be used as often as it should.”
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