Greg Dyke

By Clarke, Steve | New Statesman (1996), July 24, 2000 | Go to article overview

Greg Dyke


Clarke, Steve, New Statesman (1996)


A bad loser with contradictory impulses who's determined to be top dog

In common with many charismatic high-achievers, Greg Dyke doesn't do self-effacement. He only pretends to. But he is fond of explaining his extraordinary success -- a trajectory that, in around 20 years, has taken him from the dole queue to the most powerful editorial chair in British broadcasting -- by saying, Arthur Daley-style, that it's all down to luck. Disingenuous or what?

If Dyke, who is more calculating than he lets on, really does believe that Lady Luck has been blessing his professional life, he must be wondering why she has so blatantly deserted him since he became the 13th director general of the BBC in January. As he prepares for what is being billed as a seminal BBC policy statement -- his Edinburgh Television Festival MacTaggart lecture at the end of next month -- even his own supporters are beginning to have serious doubts over exactly what he and the man who appointed him and to whom he owes so much, the BBC chairman Sir Christopher Bland, have up their sleeves for the corporation.

The partnership between Dyke and Bland is one of those classic, class-transcending British paradoxes that thrive in the media and entertainment business. On paper, the pair should despise each other. Bland, an Oxbridge-educated Ulster guardsman, pseudo-aristocrat, lifelong Conservative and astute businessman, made his first million while Dyke was still a programme-maker and trade union activist. However, when the two first encountered each other a decade ago in a similar pairing of roles at London Weekend Television, they quickly grasped that they shared the same ambition-to turn LWT into a lean, mean, City-friendly company.

Their success in this task led Dyke to leave the station a multimillionaire, after an ingenious financial restructuring (which left a sour taste in the mouths of more traditional City folk) was followed by a hostile takeover by Granada. "Despite their backgrounds, Christopher and Greg are soulmates," says someone who knows both men well. "It's almost a father and son thing. They both shoot from the hip and are determined to get their own way." But Bland has not been able to keep Dyke out of trouble at the BBC. This was illustrated by the latter's recent humiliation over his failure to maintain a Premier League highlights package for the BBC, after being outbid and outmanoeuvred by his old enemy, BSkyB, and his old network, ITV.

Losing the football was a bitter personal disappointment for Manchester United fanatic Dyke, on two counts. From childhood onwards, he (like the rest of his family) has always been passionate about the game. Furthermore, it is the second time in a decade that Dyke has found himself on the losing side when competing for the rights to screen Premier League matches. In May 1992, Dyke led ITV' s bid, only to be outbid by BSkyB, which was in partnership with (you guessed it) the BBC. As Dyke was acutely aware at the time, that deal, more than anything else, enabled Rupert Murdoch to become the most financially successful player in British television.

On both occasions, Dyke proved unable to accept his defeat gracefully, but then he is someone who always likes to be top dog. It could be a day's fishing with a friend--or spearheading a bid for an ITV licence. The desire to do better than anyone else is deeply ingrained in his personality and makes him an instinctive entrepreneur. This is notwithstanding his lifelong commitment to the Labour Party, which led to a botched attempt to win a GLC seat in 1977. Long before Dyke began to appreciate the thrills and spills of the stock market, he ran a profitable lineage pool during his days as a streetwise hack on the Hillingdon Mirror.

The failure to land Premier League highlights for the BBC emerged in the week that Dyke's effective deputy, the director of television, Mark Thompson, revealed plans for a far-reaching overhaul of BBC Television. …

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