Arts Council loser to head BBC Radio 3?

Arts Council loser to head BBC Radio 3?


norman lebrecht

September 03, 2014

The Times reports today that Alan Davey, chief executive of Arts Council England since 2007, is in the frame to fill the vacancy left by Roger Wright at the head of Radio 3 and the BBC Proms.


Davey’s role at ACE has been to impose rigorous political correctness and cut lots of jobs. Sounds ideal for the BBC.

His job history is interesting, and altogether political.

As a senior civil servant at the Department of Culture Media and Sport, Davey was parachuted into the supposedly independent ACE to bring it in line with government thinking. His Secretary of State at DCMS was James Purnell.

Purnell is now Director of Strategy and Digital at the BBC, right-hand man to the Director General, Tony Hall.

The shadowy head-hunter who has nominated Davey for the Radio 3 vacancy is Nicky Oppenheimer, a Cabinet Office official under Tony Blair.

These old New Labour networks think they are still running the country.

Perhaps they are.


  • Neil McGowan says:

    The chatterering gainsayers who have spent the past few years bating Roger Wright will now have to take it on the chin. However, most of them are confirmed Brownite Luddites, so we can look forward to Hypocrisy In The Community.

    It would be fascinating to know what (if anything) Davey knows about classical music? Yet ability, experience and acumen are scorned by New Luddites. Much fairer, they believe, if someone without any ability or knowledge is given their fair turn too :((

    Only recall how Margaret ‘Hoxha’ Hodge – New Labour’s laughable-titled ‘Culture Minister’ – slammed the Proms for daring to include music by… shudder! … native-born British composers. How utterly bweastly, eh??

    • Will Duffay says:

      Hodge was very silly (let’s leave it at that – the temptation is to be much much ruder) but let’s be fair and sensible: she didn’t object to the Proms including music by ‘native-born British composers’. She was making a tedious point about wider cultural inclusivity, and blaming the Proms for failing to make themselves sufficiently broad. Now, there’s a discussion to be had there (albeit a very short one…) but she wasn’t complaining about the origins of the composers. (As a side issue, a ‘native-born British composer’ could very well have a name of eastern origin and be writing in an idiom which is very unfamiliar to those of us immersed in the Western classical tradition.)

      • Neil McGowan says:

        Fair point, Will – but it was a politically-correct attack. By saying there was insufficient content of a kind she approved, she effectively condemned the content which was already there… and argued for its deletion.

  • Peter says:

    So Radio 3 are to get someone with zero experience of a job of any kind in a broadcasting organisation, and zero experience of any kind in a music organisation (one that actually has a performing department or programmes music).

    Here’s the job ad:

    The Ideal Candidate

    Detailed knowledge and understanding of classical music, and genuine interest in other musical genres

    Respected industry/media figure, ideally with experience gained within music, culture, media and / or broadcasting, and a demonstrable ability to schedule, programme and prioritise to the benefit of audiences

    Experience of leadership within a large or complex organisation and of effectively leading large teams and developing talent

  • Tony says:

    Roger Wright was wise to leave while he may be remembered as R3’s leader during its “Golden Era”.

    The next period will be tough going as the BBC confronts its future generally and gets its collar felt over eligibility for ongoing TV Licence increases and payment enforcement. A proven compliant penpusher such as Davey will rock no boats in R3 because he has no passion for music and musicians, and the politicians further up the food chain know he will cut jobs and reduce quality further when instructed to do so.

  • Mark Pemberton says:

    Actually, Alan Davey is hugely knowledgeable about music, and has a passion for contemporary music.

  • Ready to retune to R4 says:

    Mark Pemberton defends the possibility that Alan Davey might get to run R3 with the suggestion that Mr Davey is “hugely knowledgeable about music”. If this rumble (and it is only a rumble as yet – The Times is pretty clear there) that surely is not really enough to get someone appointed to one of the most powerful positions in classical music broadcasting anywhere in the world. There are thousands of people who know loads about music, but they aren’t necessarily then qualified to run Radio 3 (especially if they have never previously held any position in broadcasting).

    Mr Davey is a career civil servant. His CV on Wikipedia shows a nicely bland progression. One hopes, were he indeed to be appointed to R3, that somewhere there might be added some colour from somewhere in his career. Part of the issue may come from asking a former middle-ranking civil servant who ended up at the Cabinet Office to advise the BBC on who to appoint to such an important job (the headhunter named apparently also quite likes music, having apparently sat on the board of a couple of period instrument orchestras over the years). A former civil servant called in to advise is quite likely to suggest appointing another civil servant, because that’s how career civil servants think. Provided you don’t rock the boat, you gently move up the tree, until you get a jolly nice pension.

    But maybe the BBC only got in these headhunters because all the obvious candidates had already said “no thanks”…

  • Simon says:

    I know for a fact that there are a number of orchestra managers who would love this job. Some have even worked for the BBC. I myself have a love of classical music, have worked in the orchestral sector for 10 years and have a love of contemporary music. I was for many years a hospital radio DJ. Might I also be suitable for the job?

    I am not convinced that loving classical music is enough to run one of the greatest classical music radio stations. Even if you do like contemporary music.

  • Tommy says:

    Dear Everyone,
    “In the frame” does not mean “got the job”.

  • Robert says:

    Roger Wright was in fact the first Radio 3 Controller to have been trained in music. His three predecessors, for example, all had a ‘passion’ for music (which I believe he shares) but had no formal training in it. Iain McIntyre was a journalist who had been controller of Radio 4; John Drummond was a languages graduate who had worked on TV music and dance documentaries. He had no radio experience but had run the Edinburgh Festival; Nicholas Kenyon had been a journalist – a music critic, certainly, but with no experience in broadcasting or in running anything. The job is primarily administrative and about leadership. Radio 3 is staffed with many highly qualified and creative musicians who need to be managed well. There’s no reason to suppose that Davey can’t do that. Give him a chance and don’t pre-judge.

    • Neil McGowan says:

      The job is primarily administrative

      Actually the job involves programming, curating and operating the largest music festival in Europe.

  • Robert says:

    ….a ‘passion’ for music (which I believe Davey shares)…
    I should have said.

  • Nick says:

    If James Purnell and Tony Hall want to appoint James’ old friend Alan to the job, why don’t they have the confidence to just do it? Why do they have to do their market research in advance via my favourite newspaper… getting his name out there, watching the responses from politicians, arts leaders etc etc. …spin doctoring should surely be a subtler art than this?! Plus, not all the shortlisted candidates have even been interviewed yet….James me old mucker you are losing your touch..

  • Ks. Christopher Robson says:

    Wasn’t William Glock a trained musician? Or was he not called called Controller of R3 when he was there years ago? He was a pretty good pianist, I remember (he played in a couple of Monteverdi Choir concerts at Dartington back in the early 70s that I took part in).