DOWNFALL OF KILROY THE BBC LADYKILLER; Why the Most Powerful Women in Television Seized on the Arab Row to Suspend the Biggest Star of Daytime TV

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), January 11, 2004 | Go to article overview

DOWNFALL OF KILROY THE BBC LADYKILLER; Why the Most Powerful Women in Television Seized on the Arab Row to Suspend the Biggest Star of Daytime TV


Byline: ELIZABETH SANDERSON;KATIE NICHOLL

IN the power corridors of the sixth floor at the BBC, in the corporation's private dining rooms and in the controllers' offices of Television Centre - the very epicentre of broadcasting - the stories of Robert Kilroy-Silk and his behaviour are often told.

There was the time he ordered a researcher to call the parents in the Dunblane tragedy at 2am - only hours after their children had been murdered in cold blood - because he had ordered they be on his show next day.

Or the way the presenter, who prides himself on his sexual attraction, is less considerate to women behind the cameras. He is said to dismissively throw grapes at female production staff when he doesn't agree with them as a gesture of derision.

On screen, 61-year-old Kilroy-Silk is charm personified, with matinee idol good looks and a caring tone of questioning.

Off screen, those who have to work with him see him as an ambitious, ruthless, misogynist with an obscene vanity and an unshakeable belief in his own importance.

It is no secret that he propositioned one former nude model who had appeared on his show. And behind the scenes it is just as unsavoury. His crew are expected to work 15-hour days for short contracts and little money, while there are dark rumours of nepotism.

Last week, he attracted huge controversy in his newspaper column when he referred to Arabs as 'suicide bombers, limb-amputators and women repressors' and claimed 'they should go down on their knees and thank God for the munificence of the United States'. But many at his production company, Kilroy Television Company, were hardly surprised by the storm.

There are creative heads at the BBC who hold power and sway over Kilroy-Silk's future career - and they have been listening to this and are not amused. To many of them, Kilroy-Silk is a dinosaur, a relic from a previous age when men took decisions and women's roles were confined to the makeup and secretarial departments.

These days, the roles are reversed and the BBC is run by half a dozen strong-minded young women who head both main TV channels. They include Lorraine Heggessey, the controller of BBC 1, Alison Sharman, controller of daytime TV, and Jana Bennett, controller of television, who have created a new, politically correct, Left-leaning climate in which Kilroy no longer fits.

Last week, it was Jana Bennett and Alison Sharman who took the dramatic decision to take the Kilroy show off air following a number of crisis meetings.

A BBC source said: 'The decision was taken by Alison and Jana ultimately.

Lorraine was also involved in the decision making, though she is more preoccupied with prime time, but she certainly had a say in things.' But all three of them have heard the stories - and no doubt a great deal more - about his marriage, his rudeness to guests and the terrible demands he places on his staff just to make himself look better. They know about the secret lovechild he fathered when he was still a Labour MP and remember the time he propositioned 30-year-old Elisha Scott, a former Penthouse Pet Of The Year, after she appeared on his show.

There is also a serious level of resentment about the lucrative deal he has struck whereby his own production company makes the show, earning him an annual income of more than [pounds sterling]500,000, his fortune of more than [pounds sterling]5 million, a vast mansion in Buckinghamshire once owned by Ozzie Osbourne and Dirk Bogarde and a palatial holiday home in Marbella.

So perhaps it is not surprising that many of the new female executives at the BBC felt that when the right time came he would have to go.

For now the ratings are still constant, averaging 1.2 million a season for the last two years, even if his rival Trisha, on ITV, who has the same mid morning slot, regularly attracts 200,000 more viewers. …

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