Jobs that are hanging by a thread at the BBC

Jobs that are hanging by a thread at the BBC


norman lebrecht

March 24, 2023

This morning’s announcement of a face-saving ‘solution’ for the BBC Singers changes nothing beyond next week.

The BBC will still cut one-fifth of its orchestral posts in England.

Most of those will be in London since the head of orchestras, Simon Webb, is based in Manchester and will not want to meet the faces he sacked in the canteen. What’s more, no-one at the BBC will dares= to cut assets in the regions. The result is that around 30 percent of the jobs will go at the BBC Concert Orchestra and BBC Symphony Orchestra, leading to a fairly rapid merger of the two ensembles (which the BBC denies).

The BBC Singers are safe for this year’s Proms and possibly a year or two ahead.

It was essential to get this news out this morning so that Sam Jackson can start next week as BBC head of classical music with a clear desk, a new agenda and no blood on his hands.

Those less uncompromised are rushing to cover their backs.

Charlotte Moore, head of content, has promised to ‘book in some time in person’ with the Singers and musicians. Her position appears safe.

So, too, does Lorna Clarke’s as head of music. She ignored the concerns of the classical team and dashed off on holiday.

Less securely, Simon Webb as head of orchestras and choirs will be fingering his collar. Webb was credited with the strategy for abolishing the Singers and cutting the orchestras. It now appears that his strategy was conducted with very limited consultation, within or without the BBC, and brought down ignominy on the heads of his superiors. They’ve had a bad week, and they won’t soon forget it.

Webb’s survival plan will be to appease them with sacrifices. That will not be a pleasant spectacle and he may not last long.

Nor is anyone taking longterm bets on D-G Tim Davie who lost much credibility in his handling of the Gary Lineker and BBC Singers fiascos.  Davie will be taking calls from headhunters. His London musicians will be looking elsewhere.

pictured: The BBC Symphony’s expensive new hall


  • Loralyn Sponge says:

    Charlotte Moore, Lorna Clarke, Simon Webb – a triumvirate of incompetent, callous, parasitism.

  • SlippedChat says:

    In this, as in so many other situations (whether orchestras, universities, religious institutions, or any other organisation), it takes a long time to build something fine, but very little time for misguided management to wreck it.

  • Doc Martin says:

    BBC suits cost even more, especially those garish presenters on those early morning shows etc. Grr.

  • Zooperdooper says:

    Could it be that the BBC Singers were the “dead cat” to take attention off the rest of the cuts.

  • Michelle Lewin says:

    Not sure its fair to put the blame on the individuals in the BBC mentioned here. It’s clear the cuts are coming for further up. They likely have little wiggle room…

  • Londoner says:

    How on earth can you merge the BBC Concert and Symphony Orchestras? Completely different disciplines, conductors, repertoire and audiences. Someone doesn’t have a clue….

    • Tim says:

      Boston and every other orchestra that plays regular pops concerts has pulled it off for decades. The fact that the BBC is operating five orchestras, and multiple ensembles in London alone, is mind-boggling to anyone outside of Europe. Much wealthier parts of the world get by with much less.

  • David Crofts says:

    The BBC is slowly signing its own death warrant. They seem to have developed the knack of blindly following the vocal minority, and ignoring the majority. They are changing what was once the best, into a mediocre organisation. If savings need to be made, end the contracts of the overpaid, and start again with fresh talent, there is plenty out there without bowing to the demands of the Linacer types. When you are at the stage of having to take tens of thousands of people to court to get them to pay their licence, it should be telling you something.

  • Rick says:

    “Webb was credited with the strategy”. By whom? I have some experience with Simon and think it highly unlikely he created this cack-handed plan. If you just randomly picked on him (or if you’ve taken at face value a private word from someone possibly covering their own back), then please remember these are real people you are talking about, and laying the blame on someone who doesn’t deserve it may have real-life consequences.

    • Finale says:

      Other people also have experience with Simon and while it’s certainly unlikely that he conceived this plan, he signed on the line and took the money to deliver it. While doubtless a charming individual in private life, and by all accounts a skilled musician, in his career as a manager he has had a track record of sloppiness, disingenuity (to put it no more strongly) and throwing subordinates under the bus. I would not wish upon him – or anyone – the misery that he inflicted (with those blue eyes wide open), upon many of my colleagues. But I can’t buy the notion that he’s some blameless victim of this whole ugly situation. He’s been promoted far beyond his competence and if he’s a victim of anything here, it’s his own overweening ambition.

      • Rick says:

        Well, clearly we have different experiences with him, which is fine. I’m not saying he’s necessarily blameless, but I object to Norman making him the fall guy as if he is the architect of all this.

    • Tim says:

      Careful, the cultural pitchfork brigade will be coming for you next.

    • Althea T-H says:

      It was Simon’s decision to go ahead with the plans, rather than to resign from his well-paid job in protest. Presumably his BBC job offers a contract, sick pay, holiday pay and a pension – things that many freelance musicians never experience. Had he walked away, he would have spared himself much calumny.
      These are real people’s jobs that are being taken away, you know! Those who go ahead and do such a thing to their fellow-musicians should be prepared for major criticism.

      • Rick says:

        He was only announced in this position in November. I’ve heard speculation he was hired specifically to be the fall-guy for the whole debacle. It’s very easy to talk about principle when it’s not you putting yourself out of a job. I don’t completely disagree with you, but it takes a really special person to make themselves unemployed out of principle. Would you? I’m not sure I would.

        • Finale says:

          Simon once sat opposite me and assured me that if he felt that the right thing for the organisation was for him to resign, he would not hesitate to do so. Well, words are cheap – he’s proved that often enough
          – but shortly afterwards he put two entire departments under his management through full redundancy procedures beause (his words) it was “just easier” than individually renegotiating their job descriptions.

          I’m not surprised that he’s acting as he is, given the position he finds himself in. And that he’s been set up to take the hit by cleverer and even more cynical minds seems clear. What’s troubling is that a manager of his low calibre and track record of failure should have been allowed to rise to this position in the first place. And that when his people are receiving their P45s, wondering how to pay their mortgages and looking at the wreckage of their careers, he will still be there with a six figure salary and gold plated pension – no doubt feeling quite terrible about it and possibly shedding a few more of those well-timed tears.

        • Loralyn Sponge says:

          Rick, I appreciate you trying to be fair minded but your assumptions are well wide of the mark. Simon Webb devised this strategy to further his career. Before he arrived at the BBC he had tried his ideas out at the CBSO who eventually saw him gone. Now, Webb is the only classical music expert left at the BBC in a senior position. Hes spent the last 5 years positioning himself as the “senior” orchestra director of all the PGs, expanding his “consultancy” roles in multiple boards to gain real influence and clout amongst really big players (ABO, EBU, DCMS advisory panels to name a few). That way he gained access to senior people way above the heads of Alan Davey and even Tim Davie, planting ideas and impressing them with his smooth charm and expertise. The current “strategy” is very central to his vision: the salaried model is dead, and he will build his career as a “privatiser” (gig economiser) of the business.

          • Finale says:

            Believe me, not a great deal of “expertise” there. A fourth-rate mind with little practical career experience of contract orchestras and a limited set of “one-size-fits-all” ideas which he tries (often ineptly) to apply in each of his roles before jumping ship as they spiral into chaos. As you suggest, his only real competence is his skill at networking and smooth-talking his way into senior positions – and he is certainly highly gifted at that.

            The charm and the urbane manner are genuinely persuasive – but they really are all that he has to offer. When they fail to work (and numerous colleagues will attest to this) he can be extremely unpleasant. The worst bullies, quite often, are not shouting, swearing Malcolm Tucker figures. They’re weak managers promoted out of their depth; approval-junkies who wreck careers with a regretful smile and a well-judged tear in one eye.

  • Warren says:

    To save “real money” why not close down one of rock/pop (consumer capitalist )channels ??? Because BBC bosses believe rock/pop is “radical man”. They have the intellectual vigour of a that. So we all have to suffer their lack of aesthetic vigour.

    • Tim says:

      Two reasons. First, the rock/pop (consumer capitalist) channels are much cheaper to run. Second, the rock/pop (consumer capitalist) channels appeal to vastly more listeners (i.e. consumers). I prefer classical music myself, but I’m neither blind nor delusional as to its broader appeal, which is negligible. I certainly don’t expect others to subsidize my niche preferences.

  • Christopher Beynon says:

    Really and truly, some of these Philistines at BBC management need their arses kicked and their P45 documents issued. Nobody who really loves and cares about classical music would even contemplate the things they are trying to do. These are acts of cultural vandalism of the lowest water. What is really obnoxious is the bullshit they come out with in pathetic attempts to justify their actions.

    • Tim says:

      The problem is that virtually nobody loves and cares about classical music, statistically speaking. It’s a niche product consumed by one percent of the population, or even less. The vast majority of the license fees sustaining this outfit are coming from the philistines you so despise. Money talks, bullshit walks.

  • Roz S says:

    I find it worrying (though not surprising) that first action of Rachel Jupp’s review was to appoint yet another administrator to sack people who actually make music. Ms Jupp’s previous positions seem to be mostly in TV editing, not ideal training for deciding the fate of musicians, I’d have thought. From the new appointee Simon Webb’s blurb on the BBC website, he does have experience of orchestral management but nothing choral mentioned – can’t help feeling he doesn’t have much clue either.

    I am relieved that for the moment, at least, the short-sighted decision on the BBC Singers has been ‘paused’.

    For alternative funding, perhaps the BBC could look at last in, first out for Mr Webb as a start? Then introduce a maximum pay grade for ‘celebrity’ presenters and senior management across the board. That should provide enough to save the singers and orchestral players for years.