Profile: Greg Dyke

By Clarke, Steve | Management Today, February 1992 | Go to article overview

Profile: Greg Dyke


Clarke, Steve, Management Today


On 14 October last year, the elite brigade of Britain's television industry, and those desperate to join it, gathered at London's Savoy Hotel to toast the retirement of ITN chairman Sir David Nicholas. Those present included David Frost, Michael Grade, Sir Robin Day, Richard Branson and Sir Alastair Burnet.

But with under two days to go until the announcement of the Channel 3 franchise winners and losers that would determine the future of ITV, few of the party goers were in any mood for celebration. There was, however, one exception. In a corner at one end of the room, oddly detached from the rest of the proceedings, a grinning, bald man was positively euphoroic. And it wasn't just the champagne. Greg Dyke, MD of London Weekend Television, looked like a man who knew he couldn't lose.

Thirty-six hours later, Dyke's confidence was confirmed as he and his colleagues began celebrating their winning double in the ITV franchise auction. Not only had LWT held on to its licence to broadcast with a ridiculously low bid of 7.6 million pounds (the opposition, London Independent Broadcasting, offered over four times as much but failed the quality test), but Sunrise Television, in which LWT holds a 20% stake, had ousted TV-am.

For Dyke, Sunrise's success was particularly sweet. Eight years earlier he had pulled TV-am back from financial ruin only to leave the breakfast station a year later following a row over programme budgets. Now 44, Dyke had played a part in the undoing of TV-am and Bruce Gyngell, the company's controversial managing director, and established himself as one of the three most powerful men in British commercial television alongside Carlton's Michael Green and Central Television's Leslie Hill.

'The day after TV-am lost I received about 40 letters from exTV-am staff saying, "You got the bastard",' he says. 'But I don't feel that way at all. I long ago overcame any hostility I had towards Bruce and TV-am.' That may be so but Dyke has every reason to be magnanimous as he ponders the future from his 14th floor office on London's South Bank with its spectacular views of the metropolis.

For one thing, his career didn't reach lift off until he joined LWT shortly after his 30th birthday. But more importantly, Dyke has, in his words, 'taken LWT out of the pack and made it the most profitable ITV company as a percentage of turnover or ad revenue'. While other television stations drifted uncertainly towards last year's franchise auction, Dyke helped to provide LWT with a vision that should, barring mishaps, guarantee it a place at the pinnacle of British television come the year 2000.

Once notorious for its restrictive practices and other abuses of union power, nowadays LWT is an efficiently run operation. 'Greg has revolutionised the company,' says Andy Allan, programme controller at Central. Its staff complain about working longer hours for less money but they know that LWT has a future, while at the same time worrying if their own jobs will be the next to go.

Since Dyke took over, staff numbers have been ruthlessly cut by almost half, and LWT has been broken up into smaller units as part of its pre-franchise restructuring. The company's bleak, windswept HQ has been grandly renamed The London Television Centre to emphasise that it is more than just another ITV broadcaster. The location may not be Burbank but Dyke's dream of building a Hollywood-style production centre within walking distance of Waterloo is taking shape.

Under Dyke's leadership LWT has made a promising start towards successfully marketing its studios and offices to other programme makers. And as well as housing Sunrise and a new television news service for London, Dyke's masterplan involves Carlton, which dislodged Thames Television in the auction, also operating from LWT's South Bank building. Close ties with Meridian, the victor for the south coast region which toppled Television South, are also planned. …

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