BBC Director-General Mark Thompson has said he will “step down” from the role this autumn.
Thompson announced the move in an email to staff at the corporation today after a meeting with BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten.
He said: “This morning I told Lord Patten that I believe that an appropriate time for me to hand over to a successor and to step down as Director-General of the BBC would be the autumn of this year, once the Olympics and the rest of the amazing summer of 2012 are over.”
Thompson said he had discussed his leaving date with Lord Patten last year and said he wanted his successor to “have time to really get their feet under the table” before the next review of the BBC charter which will take place before the end of 2016.
He told staff the corporation had “weathered a series of lively storms” during his almost eight years in the top job and was “so much stronger than the BBC I inherited back in 2004”.
Thompson said: “Trust and approval are at record highs, our services are in brilliant creative form and we’ve demonstrated beyond contradiction that the BBC can be just as much of a leader and innovator in the digital age as we once were in the analogue one.”
He joined the BBC as a trainee in 1979 and worked on programmes including Watchdog, Newsnight and Panorama before leaving the corporation to become chief executive of Channel 4 from 2002 to 2004.
BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten said: “Mark Thompson has been an outstanding Director-General of the BBC. He took over during a traumatic period in the corporation’s history and subsequently enhanced its reputation for creativity and quality, while setting the course for the BBC’s digital future.
“I will miss him on both a personal and professional level and I wish him the very best of luck for the future. The Trust will shortly begin the process of recruiting a successor.”
Here is Thompson’s email to staff:
“Last week in a speech to the Royal Television Society, I talked about our plans for the Olympics and the other major broadcasting events of 2012. I pointed to the BBC’s current strengths – in quality, creativity and world-class innovation in technology – as well as the big challenges we face both in living within our means and in getting the BBC ready for a digital future. I also commented on speculation about my own future, but promised to tell you and the BBC Trust first when I had reached a view about the timetable.
“This morning I told Lord Patten that I believe that an appropriate time for me to hand over to a successor and to step down as Director-General of the BBC would be the autumn of this year, once the Olympics and the rest of the amazing summer of 2012 are over.
“When Chris Patten became BBC Chairman last year, I told him I thought there was a strong case for handing over to a successor sooner rather than later. From the point of view of the BBC, I thought that my successor should have time to really get their feet under the table before the next Charter Review process got going.
“I have told the Chairman that I believe that he and the Trust should begin the public process of finding the next DG as soon as they see fit. I will of course help them in that endeavour in any way I can. We can address the exact date of the handover once an appointment is made, though I have made it clear that I want to be guided by the wishes of the Trust and of my successor, whoever that may be.
“Rather amazingly, with nearly eight years in the job I am already the longest-serving Director-General since the 1970s. Over those eight years (not to mention three Chairmen, three Prime Ministers and five Secretaries of State!), we’ve weathered a series of lively storms and been through some trying as well as some very successful times together. What has made my job not just bearable, but immensely enjoyable and rewarding, is all of you: your talent and energy, your unshakeable belief in the BBC and everything it stands for.
“I’ve always been on the side of change because I believe that, in the middle of a media revolution, change is the only way of safeguarding what is so precious about the BBC. But change always brings disruption and uncertainty in its wake – and I do want to say a particular thank you to everyone who has worked with me in the difficult task of transforming the BBC. Thank you for your commitment and for your patience.
“It’s because of your efforts that the BBC I will be leaving is so much stronger than the BBC I inherited back in 2004. Trust and approval are at record highs, our services are in brilliant creative form and we’ve demonstrated beyond contradiction that the BBC can be just as much of a leader and innovator in the digital age as we once were in the analogue one. Now more than ever, to audiences at home and abroad the BBC is the best broadcaster in the world. It’s been a great privilege helping you to keep the BBC in that top spot over the past eight years.
“I’m not off just yet though and I’m looking forward to working with you over the coming months, as we prepare for the amazing summer of 2012 – as well as for the long-term future, and continued success, of the BBC.”