Inside Story by Greg Dyke

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Inside Story by Greg Dyke

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Category: Autobiography
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: Some interesting anecdotes about television plus the BBC's side of the Gilligan affair and the Hutton Enquiry. It's compelling reading, but keep your scepticism handy!
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: September 2004
Publisher: HarperCollins
ISBN: 0007192339

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One morning in May 2003 a BBC reporter, Andrew Gilligan, spoke on-air to John Humphys, presenter of Radio 4's "Today" programme. They discussed claims the government made before the invasion of Iraq about weapons of mass destruction and in particular the suggestion that WMD could be ready for use in 45 minutes. Gilligan went on to say that the dossier covering what the government thought Iraq was up to had originally been a rather tame affair and a source had told him that Downing Street had ordered it to be "sexed up". These words were to result in the suicide of Dr David Kelly, the Hutton report and finally the resignation of Greg Dyke, the author of this book, as Director General of the BBC.

The whole episode fascinated me. Sometimes it was difficult to think that most of the participants were any better than inept. The government's side of the argument had been presented (or "spun" depending on your point of view) but the BBC's position was less clear. At the time of Greg Dyke's departure from the BBC there was more coverage of the staff protests over his resignation than of the reason why he went. Picking up The Observer one Sunday morning I read excerpts from Greg Dyke's "Inside Story" and was easily tempted to buy the book, just so that I could read the BBC's version of events.

The book isn't just about the Gilligan affair: it's actually an autobiography. I suspect that this is because there isn't really enough on Gilligan and Hutton to make a book and his life before the BBC was interesting but there isn't a book in it. Put the two together though - inside information about the BBC side of the Gilligan affair and supplement it with some witty anecdotes and inside stories about the television industry and you've got the makings of something very readable.

At the age of thirty even Dyke wouldn't have thought of himself as a future Director General of the BBC. He'd been written off as a failure at school and now he was unemployed. His break came when he got a job as a current affairs researcher at London Weekend Television. Since then he's been associated with most of the major television companies and he's made a multi-million-pound fortune out of it. He was the man who introduced Roland Rat to the failing TV-AM. Roland was once described as the only rat to save a sinking ship.

Money's obviously very important to Mr Dyke. It's a theme that runs right through the book from quoting, on three occasions, the price of a house which he has lived in and comparing it with the value now. I know the cost of the house I lived in as a child, but I don't know that I could be bothered to find out its value today simply to quote the fact as an aside. We learn about share dealings and charitable donations. In a period of five years he gave £55,000 to the Labour party, but points out that this is nothing compared to the million pounds he'd given to charity in the same period. He gave money to the campaign to elect Tony Blair as leader of the Labour party - but in view of subsequent events you're left with the feeling that he'd ask for it back if he could find the receipt.

I shouldn't be too hard on Mr Dyke and his feelings about money. It's obviously this which has made him a very successful businessman. If you're reading this book in the hope of finding insight into the making of good television programmes then I'm afraid you're in for a disappointment. On the other hand, if you want to know how money is made in television (or any other business, come to that) then the book is a treat. Before reading the book I'd always thought of him as a television man. After reading it I was convinced he was simply a business man who'd been successful in television.

Mr Dyke's very good at making boring facts into interesting reading. He tells of one TV company which actually made more money by attracting fewer viewers. In the North more people watch commercial television so advertisers need fewer commercials to reach a set number of people. In the South it's a different story. Fewer people watch commercial television so the advertisers need to buy more slots to reach their target audience. The companies with the lowest viewing figures could therefore charge more for advertising slots in the certain knowledge that advertisers would be clamouring for them. As their viewers fell away the more money they could make! Similarly there's some excellent information on the negotiations for the television rights to football coverage and the infamous bidding for franchises. Subjects which could be quite boring to the average television viewer are turned into exciting reading.

For me the most enlightening parts of the book were those which covered Rupert Murdoch and his influence over New Labour. Put simply, Murdoch's control over the media is such that the political party which he chooses to support has a dramatically enhanced chance of winning. In consequence New Labour frequently defers to his views. He would seem to have more power in this country than any of our elected representatives.

Of course the main draw of the book is the time Mr Dyke spent at the BBC. When he took over it was over-staffed and over most people's heads. When he resigned, four years later, it was one of the most successful television companies - successful from a financial point of view, that is. There are those (me included) who would argue that Mr Dyke undermined the quality of the BBC, particularly in the area of news coverage.

An advance of £600,000 was paid to the author for this book. I suspect this was a pleasant bonus for Mr Dyke as I believe he'd happily have written it for nothing. He makes his intentions quite clear in the acknowledgements. He recollects telling his mother that he was writing a book. "I do hope you're not going to cause any trouble, dear." she said. Mr Dyke comments "I sincerely hope I am." He's got a lot of scores to settle over the Gilligan affair and his resignation from the BBC. There's "the two posh ladies" - governors of the BBC who failed to support him after the publication of the Hutton Report, the "thuggish" Alastair Campbell, and Lord Hutton himself whose report he dismisses as "a cut and paste job". Tony Blair is portrayed as weak and very much under Alastair Campbell's thumb.

I've always preferred biography (provided that it's not "authorised") to autobiography, which, by its nature, must be one-sided. This book is one-sided. The retelling of the Gilligan affair makes compelling, even enlightening, reading. I want to believe him when he paints Andrew Gilligan as being more sinned against than sinning and the BBC as being almost blameless in the affair. I can't quite manage it though. John Ware, perhaps the BBC's best investigative reporter, made a Panorama programme on the Gilligan affair showing that there were flaws in both the government and the BBC side of the argument and he's said (subsequent to the publication of "Inside Story") that the Gilligan broadcasts "are not supported by the evidence".

I'm recommending the book, although I'd go for the paperback version, or, better still, borrow it from the library. It's well-written, easy reading and very interesting. Just keep your scepticism handy.

You might also appreciate Let Me Off at the Top!: My Classy Life and Other Musings by Ron Burgundy.

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