John Birt, Baron Birt

John Birt, Baron Birt

Discussion
Ask a question about 'John Birt, Baron Birt'
Start a new discussion about 'John Birt, Baron Birt'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Encyclopedia
John Birt, Baron Birt is a former Director-General
Director-General of the BBC
The Director-General of the British Broadcasting Corporation is chief executive and editor-in-chief of the BBC.The position was formerly appointed by the Board of Governors of the BBC and is now appointed by the BBC Trust....

 of the BBC who was in the post from 1992 to 2000.

After a successful career in commercial television, first at Granada
Granada Television
Granada Television is the ITV contractor for North West England. Based in Manchester since its inception, it is the only surviving original ITA franchisee from 1954 and is ITV's most successful....

 and then at LWT, Birt was brought in as deputy director-general of the BBC in 1987 for his current affairs
Current affairs (news format)
Current Affairs is a genre of broadcast journalism where the emphasis is on detailed analysis and discussion of news stories that have recently occurred or are ongoing at the time of broadcast....

 expertise. The forced departure of Director-General Alasdair Milne
Alasdair Milne
Alasdair David Gordon Milne is a former BBC producer who became Controller of BBC Scotland, the BBC's Director of Programmes and then Director-General of the BBC in July 1982. His resignation was forced by the BBC Governors in January 1987, following pressure from the Thatcher government...

 following pressure from the Thatcher
Margaret Thatcher
Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher, was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990...

 government required someone at the top, preferably from outside the corporation, with editorial and production experience: Milne had been summarily replaced by Michael Checkland
Michael Checkland
Sir Michael Checkland was Director-General of the BBC from 1987 to 1992, having been appointed after the forced resignation of Alasdair Milne.- Early life :...

, an accountant
Accountant
An accountant is a practitioner of accountancy or accounting , which is the measurement, disclosure or provision of assurance about financial information that helps managers, investors, tax authorities and others make decisions about allocating resources.The Big Four auditors are the largest...

.

Birt was credited with re-structuring the BBC in accordance with Conservative Party
Conservative Party (UK)
The Conservative Party, formally the Conservative and Unionist Party, is a centre-right political party in the United Kingdom that adheres to the philosophies of conservatism and British unionism. It is the largest political party in the UK, and is currently the largest single party in the House...

 privatisation policies, but in the face of much internal opposition. His supporters insist he saved the corporation from possible government sell-off, and properly equipped it to face the digital age
Digital broadcasting
Digital broadcasting is the practice of using digital data rather than analogue waveforms to carry broadcasts over television channels or assigned radio frequency bands...

. Birt later became an adviser to the Blair
Tony Blair
Anthony Charles Lynton Blair is a former British Labour Party politician who served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 2 May 1997 to 27 June 2007. He was the Member of Parliament for Sedgefield from 1983 to 2007 and Leader of the Labour Party from 1994 to 2007...

 government.

Early life and commercial television career


John Birt was born in Liverpool
Liverpool
Liverpool is a city and metropolitan borough of Merseyside, England, along the eastern side of the Mersey Estuary. It was founded as a borough in 1207 and was granted city status in 1880...

 to a Catholic father, a manager at the Firestone
Firestone Tire and Rubber Company
The Firestone Tire and Rubber Company is an American tire company founded by Harvey Firestone in 1900 to supply pneumatic tires for wagons, buggies, and other forms of wheeled transportation common in the era. Firestone soon saw the huge potential for marketing tires for automobiles. The company...

 tire company, and a Protestant mother. He was raised as a Roman Catholic. Birt was educated at the direct-grant grammar school St Mary's College, Liverpool and St Catherine's College, Oxford
St Catherine's College, Oxford
St Catherine's College, often called Catz, is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England. Its motto is Nova et Vetera...

, where he got a third-class degree in engineering
Engineering
Engineering is the discipline, art, skill and profession of acquiring and applying scientific, mathematical, economic, social, and practical knowledge, in order to design and build structures, machines, devices, systems, materials and processes that safely realize improvements to the lives of...

.

From 1966 to 1971 Birt was at Granada Television
Granada Television
Granada Television is the ITV contractor for North West England. Based in Manchester since its inception, it is the only surviving original ITA franchisee from 1954 and is ITV's most successful....

. He devised the magazine programme Nice Time and, as a researcher at World in Action
World in Action
World in Action was a British investigative current affairs programme made by Granada Television from 1963 until 1998. Its campaigning journalism frequently had a major impact on events of the day. Its production teams often took audacious risks and gained a solid reputation for its often...

, staged in July 1967 a melodramatic post-trial encounter between Mick Jagger
Mick Jagger
Sir Michael Philip "Mick" Jagger is an English musician, singer and songwriter, best known as the lead vocalist and a founding member of The Rolling Stones....

 and senior figures in the British establishment
The Establishment
The Establishment is a term used to refer to a visible dominant group or elite that holds power or authority in a nation. The term suggests a closed social group which selects its own members...

. Jagger, just released following drugs charges, descended from a helicopter to discuss on the lawn matters of the day with, among others, the editor of The Times
The Times
The Times is a British daily national newspaper, first published in London in 1785 under the title The Daily Universal Register . The Times and its sister paper The Sunday Times are published by Times Newspapers Limited, a subsidiary since 1981 of News International...

William Rees-Mogg
William Rees-Mogg
William Rees-Mogg, Baron Rees-Mogg is an English journalist and life peer.-Education:Rees-Mogg was educated at Clifton College Preparatory School in Bristol and Charterhouse School in Godalming, followed by Balliol College, Oxford...

, and the Bishop of Woolwich
Bishop of Woolwich
The Bishop of Woolwich is an episcopal title used by a suffragan bishop of the Church of England Diocese of Southwark, in the Province of Canterbury, England....

 John A. T. Robinson.

Birt in 1969 became joint editor of World in Action with Gus McDonald
Gus Macdonald, Baron Macdonald of Tradeston
Angus John "Gus" Macdonald, Baron Macdonald of Tradeston, CBE, PC , is a member of the House of Lords, taking the Labour Party Whip....

, a former Trotskyist, later himself to become a government minister and a member of the House of Lords
House of Lords
The House of Lords is the upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Like the House of Commons, it meets in the Palace of Westminster....

. Birt later moved to LWT, where he was founding editor of the current affairs programme Weekend World
Weekend World
Weekend World is a British television political series, made by London Weekend Television and broadcast from 1972 to 1988.Created by John Birt not long after he moved to LWT, the series was broadcast on the ITV network at lunchtimes on Sundays...

. He became head of current affairs at LWT and, later, controller of features and current affairs. In the mid-1970s he took a break from LWT to produce David Frost's
David Frost (broadcaster)
Sir David Paradine Frost, OBE is a British journalist, comedian, writer, media personality and daytime TV game show host best known for his two decades as host of Through the Keyhole and serious interviews with various political figures, the most notable being Richard Nixon...

 interviews
The Nixon Interviews
The Nixon Interviews were a series of interviews of former United States President Richard Nixon conducted by British journalist Sir David Frost, and produced by John Birt. They were recorded and broadcast on television in four programs in 1977...

 with disgraced former US President Richard Nixon
Richard Nixon
Richard Milhous Nixon was the 37th President of the United States, serving from 1969 to 1974. The only president to resign the office, Nixon had previously served as a US representative and senator from California and as the 36th Vice President of the United States from 1953 to 1961 under...

. Birt returned to LWT as director of programmes in 1982. During this period he revived the career of his old friend, the Liverpool singer Cilla Black
Cilla Black
Cilla Black OBE is an English singer, actress, entertainer and media personality, who has been consistently popular as a light entertainment figure since 1963. She is most famous for her singles Anyone Who Had A Heart, You're My World, and Alfie...

, who in due course became the highest paid female performer on UK television.

Birt formed a close working relationship with his boss at LWT, Michael Grade
Michael Grade
Michael Ian Grade, Baron Grade of Yarmouth CBE is a British broadcast executive and businessman. He was BBC chairman from 2004 to 2006 and executive chairman of ITV plc from 2007 to 2009.-Early life:...

, which would later go sour when both worked at the BBC.

BBC career


While deputy director-general under Michael Checkland
Michael Checkland
Sir Michael Checkland was Director-General of the BBC from 1987 to 1992, having been appointed after the forced resignation of Alasdair Milne.- Early life :...

, a former accountant, Birt also served as the BBC's director of news and current affairs. Then and subsequently, in the wake of the Thatcher government's bitter spats with Milne, he became the most hands-on editor-in-chief in the corporation's history.

With the then Weekend World presenter Peter Jay
Peter Jay
Peter Jay is a British economist, broadcaster and diplomat.-Background:Peter Jay is the son of Douglas and Peggy Jay, both of whom were Labour Party politicians...

, Birt had in 1974 contributed to The Times
The Times
The Times is a British daily national newspaper, first published in London in 1785 under the title The Daily Universal Register . The Times and its sister paper The Sunday Times are published by Times Newspapers Limited, a subsidiary since 1981 of News International...

a series of three much-discussed articles on the topic of television journalism. Most television news and current affairs contained, they argued, a "bias against understanding": mere pictures had taken precedence over analysis. They advocated instead what became known as "a mission to explain." The model was Weekend World.

In accordance with this thesis and, no doubt, with Milne's earlier agonies in mind, makers of news and documentary programmes were required to outline their finished product in writing before setting out with the cameras. The news correspondent Kate Adie
Kate Adie
Kathryn "Kate" Adie , OBE , is a British journalist. Her most high-profile role was that of chief news correspondent for BBC News, during which time she became well known for reporting from war zones around the world...

 considered such methods were at odds with the "obligation to report". Fred Emery a former presenter of Panorama
Panorama (TV series)
Panorama is a BBC Television current affairs documentary programme, which was first broadcast in 1953, and is the longest-running public affairs television programme in the world. Panorama has been presented by many well known BBC presenters, including Richard Dimbleby, Robin Day, David Dimbleby...

, a direct rival to Weekend World and thus a prime test-bed for the new supervised approach, said it gave rise to "a certain blandness".

Shortly after arriving at the BBC, in July 1987, Birt held a conference at Lime Grove Studios
Lime Grove Studios
Lime Grove Studios was a film studio complex built by the Gaumont Film Company in 1915 situated in a street named Lime Grove, inShepherd's Bush, west London, north of Hammersmith and described by Gaumont as "the finest studio in Great Britain and the first building ever put up in this country...

 with the BBC’s current affairs journalists in which he was questioned vigorously by Charles Wheeler
Charles Wheeler (journalist)
Sir Charles Cornelius Wheeler CMG was a British journalist and broadcaster. Having joined the BBC in 1947, he became the corporation's longest serving foreign correspondent, serving in the role until his death...

, one of the BBC’s longest-serving reporters, about what he meant by the BBC’s lack of analysis in its news reporting. Panorama producer David Wickham, also at the conference, later described Birt in an interview as “phenomenally arrogant”.

Birt's promotion to Director-General in 1992 caused immediate controversy. On top of all the internal opposition, it was then revealed that, though Director-General, Birt was being employed on a freelance consultancy basis in order to write-off numerous personal expenses against tax, including "secretarial services" from his wife. While perfectly acceptable in the private sector, such practices were considered unacceptable in a Director-General of the BBC. Under political and public pressure, Birt became a BBC employee. He had to sell his shares in LWT, part of his final salary settlement with the company. When in 1994 LWT was bought by Granada, Birt lost out on a windfall of what would have been several million pounds.

Consistent with Conservative Party policy, Birt introduced a "virtual
Virtual
The term virtual is a concept applied in many fields with somewhat differing connotations, and also, differing denotations.The term has been defined in philosophy as "that which is not real" but may display the salient qualities of the real....

 internal market
Internal market
An internal market operates inside an organization or set of organizations which have decoupled internal components. Each component trades its services and interfaces with the others. Often a set of government or government-funded set of organizations will operate an internal market...

" at the BBC. Individual departments were required to charge each other for services, and even to compete against each other for contracts. Under what was called the "Producer Choice" initiative, programme producers were required to use outside suppliers if they were cheaper. Faced with high rental fees from the BBC's record library, producers for a time found it cheaper to buy records from local record shops. In-house facilities were closed or stood idle as a result, it was alleged, of "creative accounting" methods. Apparently unprofitable departments, including the Radiophonic Workshop
BBC Radiophonic Workshop
The BBC Radiophonic Workshop, one of the sound effects units of the BBC, was created in 1958 to produce effects and new music for radio, and was closed in March 1998, although much of its traditional work had already been outsourced by 1995. It was based in the BBC's Maida Vale Studios in Delaware...

, were suddenly axed after decades of service. Birt's use of impenetrable jargon
Jargon
Jargon is terminology which is especially defined in relationship to a specific activity, profession, group, or event. The philosophe Condillac observed in 1782 that "Every science requires a special language because every science has its own ideas." As a rationalist member of the Enlightenment he...

 became known as "Birtspeak", a phenomenon still regularly mocked in the satirical magazine Private Eye
Private Eye
Private Eye is a fortnightly British satirical and current affairs magazine, edited by Ian Hislop.Since its first publication in 1961, Private Eye has been a prominent critic and lampooner of public figures and entities that it deemed guilty of any of the sins of incompetence, inefficiency,...

, complete with miniature Dalek caricature of the man himself.

The allusion to Birt and Daleks has stuck. Originating from a speech Dennis Potter
Dennis Potter
Dennis Christopher George Potter was an English dramatist, best known for The Singing Detective. His widely acclaimed television dramas mixed fantasy and reality, the personal and the social. He was particularly fond of using themes and images from popular culture.-Biography:Dennis Potter was born...

 gave at the Edinburgh Television Festival less than a year before his death, Britain's foremost television playwright, labeled Birt a "croak-voiced Dalek
Dalek
The Daleks are a fictional extraterrestrial race of mutants from the British science fiction television series Doctor Who. Within the series, Daleks are cyborgs from the planet Skaro, created by the scientist Davros during the final years of a thousand-year war against the Thals...

". Potter's comments were not universally admired though. Televiison critic Mark Lawson
Mark Lawson
Mark Gerard Lawson is an English journalist, broadcaster and author.-Life and career:Born in Hendon, London, Lawson was raised in Yorkshire and is a Leeds United fan. He was educated at St Columba's College in St Albans and took a degree in English at University College London, where his lecturers...

, then of The Independent
The Independent
The Independent is a British national morning newspaper published in London by Independent Print Limited, owned by Alexander Lebedev since 2010. It is nicknamed the Indy, while the Sunday edition, The Independent on Sunday, is the Sindy. Launched in 1986, it is one of the youngest UK national daily...

, wrote of Potter's "tendency towards unfocused vitriol and noisy self-examination made his contribution easily swattable by the BBC's damage controllers and ignorable by the wider audience."

In the 1993 Christmas tape
Christmas tape
In relation to British television, Christmas tapes are unendorsed videotapes compiled by technical staff for their personal amusement. The name originates from the 1950s, when the material was filmed at the staff's Christmas parties where impromptu sketches were carried out...

 produced by the BBC's post production department, Birt was portrayed as the Daleks' creator, Davros
Davros
Davros is a character from the long-running British science fiction television series Doctor Who. Davros is an archenemy of the Doctor and is the creator of the Doctor's deadliest enemies, the Daleks...

. Former BBC director and producer David Maloney
David Maloney
David John Lee Maloney was a British television director and producer. He was born in Alvechurch, Worcestershire, was educated at King Edward VI Five Ways and served in the Royal Air Force before becoming an actor in the theatre...

 claimed on the DVD commentary for Genesis of the Daleks
Genesis of the Daleks
Genesis of the Daleks is a serial in the British science fiction television series Doctor Who that was originally broadcast in six weekly parts from 8 March to 12 April 1975. It marks the first appearance of Davros, the creator of the Daleks.-Plot:...

that John Birt "succeeded where Davros
Davros
Davros is a character from the long-running British science fiction television series Doctor Who. Davros is an archenemy of the Doctor and is the creator of the Doctor's deadliest enemies, the Daleks...

 failed and ruined the BBC".

Former BBC Director-General Alasdair Milne
Alasdair Milne
Alasdair David Gordon Milne is a former BBC producer who became Controller of BBC Scotland, the BBC's Director of Programmes and then Director-General of the BBC in July 1982. His resignation was forced by the BBC Governors in January 1987, following pressure from the Thatcher government...

 described Birt as “the most graceless man I have ever known” and a “ghastly man” who did little good for the BBC except establishing the BBC’s Internet service. He also criticised him for paying consultants a lot of money to restructure the corporation. Bill Cotton
Bill Cotton
Sir William Frederick "Bill" Cotton, CBE was a British television producer and executive, and the son of big-band leader Billy Cotton....

 described Birt’s tenure as a “nightmare” for the BBC. Radio broadcaster John Dunn said of Birt: “I certainly don't like what Birt has done to the surroundings in which I work. The atmosphere is terrible, morale is bad." David Attenborough
David Attenborough
Sir David Frederick Attenborough OM, CH, CVO, CBE, FRS, FZS, FSA is a British broadcaster and naturalist. His career as the face and voice of natural history programmes has endured for more than 50 years...

 commented: “When Birt gets up and says the whole of the BBC was a creative mess and it was wasteful, I never saw any evidence of that. I absolutely know it wasn’t so in my time. Producers now spend all their time worrying about money, and the thing has suffered for it.” Barry Norman
Barry Norman
Barry Leslie Norman, CBE is a British novelist, impresario, film critic and media personality. He was the BBC film critic on television from 1972 to 1998.-Early life:...

 wrote in his memoirs: “I left the BBC in the summer of 1998. I wasn’t unhappy there at the time but I was certainly less happy than I had been. Everyone was. Something had happened to the BBC - John Birt had happened. He had been brought in a few years earlier as Director-General, charged with making the organization more efficient and cost-effective and in that I’m sure he succeeded. But his greatest achievement - and it took some doing - was to assume control of the broadcasting organization for which everyone in the country, and many people outside it, wanted to work and within six months make the entire workforce fearful and unsettled. The confident security which in my time there had made the BBC innovative and admired throughout the world seemed to vanish overnight. There were redundancies and downsizing; staff members who retired or left for other jobs were replaced by people on contract, often short-term contract, and it’s difficult to build a career, or a life, like that.” Norman also commented that Birt’s policies led to the BBC playing safe with programme ideas and filling the schedules with “a plethora of cookery programmes, gardening programmes, quiz shows and game shows. There is very little on the BBC right now that you can’t find replicated on the commercial channels because the bottom line is cost and ratings”. Even Marmaduke Hussey, who appointed Birt to his BBC role, later claimed to have regrets: "If I'd been reappointed as chairman I would have got rid of him. I had chosen a man who did not have the two prime skills of managing and getting on with staff. He totally failed to take the BBC with him.” He said Birt was "dogmatic and difficult" and that although he had some fine qualities, "admitting others may be right was not one of them".

Birt's changes were partially dismantled by his successors Greg Dyke
Greg Dyke
Gregory "Greg" Dyke is a British media executive, journalist and broadcaster. Since the 1960s, Dyke has a long career in the UK in print and then broadcast journalism. He is credited with introducing 'tabloid' television to British broadcasting, and reviving the ratings of TV-am...

, himself sacked following pressure from the Blair government, and Mark Thompson
Mark Thompson
Mark John Thompson is Director-General of the BBC, a post he has held since 2004, and a former chief executive of Channel 4...

. However, veteran producer Tony Garnett
Tony Garnett
Tony Garnett is a film producer who has worked in feature films and on British television. He was born in Birmingham, England, and studied psychology at the University of London....

 claimed in 2009 that Birt's legacy of “totalitarian micro management” has existed at the BBC ever since. He said of Birt: “After John Birt achieved power, centralisation was accelerated. Birt had consultants all over the BBC like a rash. As an institution it fitted in perfectly with the ideology of the day. It is no accident that Birt's two jobs since have been at number 10 and at McKinsey's”. He conceded: “He was resolute and brave in his attempts to bring some proper financial discipline. He was percipient about New Media and the imminent upheavals the Internet would bring and made sure that the BBC had a head start”, but he also had “a leadership bypass, an inability to charm and persuade” and his faith in out of date management theories about structure led to “just more irrelevant bureaucratic supervision from senior management ... This sort of control is the enemy of creativity."

Birt's defenders include the prominent journalists John Lloyd
John Lloyd (UK journalist)
John Lloyd is a journalist, presently contributing editor to the Financial Times, where he has been Labour Editor, Industrial editor, East European Editor and Moscow Bureau Chief....

 and Polly Toynbee
Polly Toynbee
Polly Toynbee is a British journalist and writer, and has been a columnist for The Guardian newspaper since 1998. She is a social democrat and broadly supports the Labour Party, while urging it in many areas to be more left-wing...

. It has been argued that without his reforms and his ability to accommodate the Thatcher government, the renewal of the BBC's operating charter in the 1990s was in jeopardy. Birt was responsible for modernisation of much BBC output, including the removal from BBC Radio 1
BBC Radio 1
BBC Radio 1 is a British national radio station operated by the British Broadcasting Corporation which also broadcasts internationally, specialising in current popular music and chart hits throughout the day. Radio 1 provides alternative genres after 7:00pm including electronic dance, hip hop, rock...

 of veteran disc jockeys
Disc jockey
A disc jockey, also known as DJ, is a person who selects and plays recorded music for an audience. Originally, "disc" referred to phonograph records, not the later Compact Discs. Today, the term includes all forms of music playback, no matter the medium.There are several types of disc jockeys...

 such as Dave Lee Travis
Dave Lee Travis
Dave Lee Travis , also known professionally as DLT and the Hairy Cornflake, is a British radio presenter, best known for his career on BBC Radio 1.-Early life:...

 and Simon Bates
Simon Bates
Simon Bates is a UK disc jockey and radio presenter. Between 1976 and 1993 he worked at BBC Radio 1, presenting the station's weekday mid-morning show for most of this period. He later became a regular presenter on Classic FM...

. Radio 1 re-branded itself as more youth-oriented, but the station's audience total declined nonetheless.

Birt invested heavily in digital broadcasting and sought government approval to direct licence fee money into the new internet service bbc.co.uk
Bbc.co.uk
BBC Online is the brand name and home for the BBC's UK online service. It is a large network of websites including such high profile sites as BBC News and Sport, the on-demand video and radio services co-branded BBC iPlayer, the pre-school site Cbeebies, and learning services such as Bitesize...

. Such ventures were at the time criticised by some as being to the detriment of the BBC's core programming. John Tusa
John Tusa
Sir John Tusa is a British arts administrator, and radio and television journalist. From 1980 to 1986 he was a main presenter of BBC 2's Newsnight programme. From 1995 until 2007 he was managing director of the City of London's Barbican Arts Centre...

, a former boss of the BBC World Service
BBC World Service
The BBC World Service is the world's largest international broadcaster, broadcasting in 27 languages to many parts of the world via analogue and digital shortwave, internet streaming and podcasting, satellite, FM and MW relays...

 said, "You have to love an organisation in order to reform it."

In 1998 BBC programme makers were ordered to refrain from any mention of the private life of the cabinet minister Peter Mandelson
Peter Mandelson
Peter Benjamin Mandelson, Baron Mandelson, PC is a British Labour Party politician, who was the Member of Parliament for Hartlepool from 1992 to 2004, served in a number of Cabinet positions under both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and was a European Commissioner...

. In a live interview on BBC television's Newsnight
Newsnight
Newsnight is a BBC Television current affairs programme noted for its in-depth analysis and often robust cross-examination of senior politicians. Jeremy Paxman has been its main presenter for over two decades....

the journalist and former Conservative MP
Member of Parliament
A Member of Parliament is a representative of the voters to a :parliament. In many countries with bicameral parliaments, the term applies specifically to members of the lower house, as upper houses often have a different title, such as senate, and thus also have different titles for its members,...

 Matthew Parris
Matthew Parris
Matthew Francis Parris is a UK-based journalist and former Conservative politician.-Early life and family:...

 had identified Mandelson as a fellow homosexual. Mandelson, a former editor of Weekend World, and Birt had been colleagues at LWT. There was press speculation that Birt himself had initiated the directive.

Birt was awarded a knighthood
Knight Bachelor
The rank of Knight Bachelor is a part of the British honours system. It is the most basic rank of a man who has been knighted by the monarch but not as a member of one of the organised Orders of Chivalry...

, and in 1999 a life peerage. He took his seat in the House of Lords in March 2000 as a crossbencher.

Post-BBC career


In 2001 Tony Blair
Tony Blair
Anthony Charles Lynton Blair is a former British Labour Party politician who served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 2 May 1997 to 27 June 2007. He was the Member of Parliament for Sedgefield from 1983 to 2007 and Leader of the Labour Party from 1994 to 2007...

 appointed Birt as his personal advisor, for what was termed "Blue Skies thinking"; it is thought his long-standing friendship with Peter Mandelson
Peter Mandelson
Peter Benjamin Mandelson, Baron Mandelson, PC is a British Labour Party politician, who was the Member of Parliament for Hartlepool from 1992 to 2004, served in a number of Cabinet positions under both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and was a European Commissioner...

 had a role in his appointment. His role in government was controversial, since as a special advisor, rather than a civil servant, he is not formally obliged to face questions from House of Commons
British House of Commons
The House of Commons is the lower house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which also comprises the Sovereign and the House of Lords . Both Commons and Lords meet in the Palace of Westminster. The Commons is a democratically elected body, consisting of 650 members , who are known as Members...

 Select committees. In October 2002 an uproar was created when it emerged that the government had specifically asked him not to appear in front of the transport select committee, at a time when he was in charge of long-term transport strategy. Earlier that year, a paper of Birt's had proposed a second network of motorways operated as tolls
Toll road
A toll road is a privately or publicly built road for which a driver pays a toll for use. Structures for which tolls are charged include toll bridges and toll tunnels. Non-toll roads are financed using other sources of revenue, most typically fuel tax or general tax funds...

 to counter the problems of traffic congestion. In parallel, he subsequently become a part-time consultant with McKinsey & Company
McKinsey & Company
McKinsey & Company, Inc. is a global management consulting firm that focuses on solving issues of concern to senior management. McKinsey serves as an adviser to many businesses, governments, and institutions...

, which some see as a conflict of interest with his government involvement. In December 2005 he quit his role as advisor to Tony Blair to join private equity firm Terra Firma Capital Partners
Terra Firma Capital Partners
Terra Firma Capital Partners Ltd is a leading U.K.-based private equity firm, best known for its failed investment in British music company EMI. Financier Guy Hands founded the firm in 2002 through the spin-off of Nomura Principal Finance Group...

, "for personal reasons". In addition to his unpaid work with the UK government Birt also had a paid role at McKinsey & Co in their Media and Entertainment Practice. Birt's relationship with government and McKisney caused some controversy as McKinsey were increasingly working with UK government departments in a range of public service and defence areas.

Since February 2004, Birt has been on the board
Board of directors
A board of directors is a body of elected or appointed members who jointly oversee the activities of a company or organization. Other names include board of governors, board of managers, board of regents, board of trustees, and board of visitors...

 of PayPal
PayPal
PayPal is an American-based global e-commerce business allowing payments and money transfers to be made through the Internet. Online money transfers serve as electronic alternatives to paying with traditional paper methods, such as checks and money orders....

 Europe.

The Financial Times
Financial Times
The Financial Times is an international business newspaper. It is a morning daily newspaper published in London and printed in 24 cities around the world. Its primary rival is the Wall Street Journal, published in New York City....

reported at the beginning of July 2005 that Birt's office ceiling at No 10 Downing Street
10 Downing Street
10 Downing Street, colloquially known in the United Kingdom as "Number 10", is the headquarters of Her Majesty's Government and the official residence and office of the First Lord of the Treasury, who is now always the Prime Minister....

 had fallen in. However, Birt was not injured.

Returning to his earlier career on 26 August 2005, Birt delivered his second MacTaggart lecture at the Edinburgh International Television Festival
Edinburgh International Television Festival
The Edinburgh International Television Festival, founded in 1976, is held annually over the British August bank holiday weekend at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre....

. Partly a review of his professional life as a broadcaster, he also criticised the "tabloidisation" of intellectual concerns. More importantly, he argued that Channel Four
Channel 4
Channel 4 is a British public-service television broadcaster which began working on 2 November 1982. Although largely commercially self-funded, it is ultimately publicly owned; originally a subsidiary of the Independent Broadcasting Authority , the station is now owned and operated by the Channel...

 should receive financial help, in order to preserve "public service broadcasting", which was taken as advocacy of the BBC sharing its licence fee with Channel Four. He also mentioned that his long standing feud with Michael Grade
Michael Grade
Michael Ian Grade, Baron Grade of Yarmouth CBE is a British broadcast executive and businessman. He was BBC chairman from 2004 to 2006 and executive chairman of ITV plc from 2007 to 2009.-Early life:...

 had been resolved, but the speech as a whole was not admired by many figures in the industry.

In 2006, Lord Birt joined the consulting firm Capgemini
Capgemini
Capgemini is a French global IT services company, one of the world's largest management consulting, outsourcing and professional services companies with a staff of 114,274 operating in 40 countries. It is headquartered in Paris and was founded in 1967 by Serge Kampf, the current chairman, in...

. He will advise the firm, with a focus on its consulting services in the public sector and telecom, media and entertainment.

He is currently working with renewable power company Infinis.

Private life


John Birt's first wife was the American-born Jane Lake. They met in 1963, whilst she was an art student at Oxford. The couple married in Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

 in 1965, and have two children, Eliza and Yahya (formerly Jonathan) Birt.

In April 2005, Birt admitted a twelve-month affair with Eithne Wallis, a divorced mother of three and a former head of the National Probation Service
National Probation Service
thumb|right|100px|NPS logoThe National Probation Service for England and Wales is a statutory Criminal Justice Service, mainly responsible for the supervision of offenders in the community and the provision of reports to the criminal courts to assist them in their sentencing duties...

. Birt admitted adultery
Adultery
Adultery is sexual infidelity to one's spouse, and is a form of extramarital sex. It originally referred only to sex between a woman who was married and a person other than her spouse. Even in cases of separation from one's spouse, an extramarital affair is still considered adultery.Adultery is...

 in his court papers.

Birt and Wallis' marriage took place on 16 December 2006 at Islington
Islington
Islington is a neighbourhood in Greater London, England and forms the central district of the London Borough of Islington. It is a district of Inner London, spanning from Islington High Street to Highbury Fields, encompassing the area around the busy Upper Street...

 Register Office. It was attended by neither set of children. A reception was held after the ceremony at the fashionable London St John restaurant in Smithfield, attended by, among others, the politician Peter Mandelson
Peter Mandelson
Peter Benjamin Mandelson, Baron Mandelson, PC is a British Labour Party politician, who was the Member of Parliament for Hartlepool from 1992 to 2004, served in a number of Cabinet positions under both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and was a European Commissioner...

 and Trevor Philips, chairman of the Commission for Equalities and Human Rights
Commission for Equalities and Human Rights
The Equality and Human Rights Commission is a non-departmental public body in Great Britain which was established by the Equality Act 2006 and came into being on 1 October 2007. The Commission has responsibility for the promotion and enforcement of equality and non-discrimination laws in England,...

, both former colleagues at LWT.

Portrayals in fiction


In the 2007 play Frost/Nixon on Broadway, Birt was played by actor Rene Auberjonois
Rene Auberjonois
René Murat Auberjonois is an American actor, known for portraying Father Mulcahy in the movie version of M*A*S*H and for creating a number of characters in long-running television series, including Clayton Endicott III on Benson , Odo on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Chef Louis in The Little...

. In the 2008 film adaptation Frost/Nixon
Frost/Nixon (film)
Frost/Nixon is a 2008 historical drama film based on the 2006 play by Peter Morgan which dramatizes the Frost/Nixon interviews of 1977. The film was directed by Ron Howard and produced for Universal Pictures by Howard, Brian Grazer of Imagine Entertainment and Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner of Working...

, he was played by Matthew Macfadyen
Matthew Macfadyen
David Matthew Macfadyen is an English actor, known for his role as MI5 intelligence officer Tom Quinn in the BBC television drama series Spooks and for starring as Fitzwilliam Darcy in Pride and Prejudice.In June, 2010 Macfadyen won a British Academy Television Award for Best Supporting...

.

External links