Mark Thompson

Mark Thompson
Mark Thompson at the Monaco Media Forum in 2008.
Director-General of the BBC
Assumed office
22 June 2004
Deputy Mark Byford
Preceded by Mark Byford (acting)
Personal details
Born 31 July 1957 (1957-07-31) (age 54)
London, England
Nationality British
Spouse(s) Jane Blumberg
Alma mater Merton College, Oxford
Religion Roman Catholic

Mark John Thompson (born 31 July 1957)[1] is Director-General of the BBC, a post he has held since 2004, and a former chief executive of Channel 4. He is the highest paid employee of any public-sector organisation in the UK earning between £800,000 and £900,000 per year.[2]

Thompson was born in London and brought up in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire,[3] by his mother, Sydney Corduff, his sister, Katherine, and father, Duncan John Thompson. He was educated by Jesuits at the independent school Stonyhurst College, and from there went up to Merton College, Oxford, where he took a first in English.[1] He edited the university magazine Isis.[4]


Appointment as Director-General

Thompson was appointed Director-General on 21 May 2004.[5] He succeeded Greg Dyke, who resigned on 29 January 2004 in the aftermath of the Hutton Inquiry. Although he had originally stated he was not interested in the role of Director-General and would turn down any approach from the BBC, he changed his mind, saying the job was a "one-of-a-kind opportunity". The decision to appoint Thompson Director-General was made unanimously by the BBC Board of Governors, headed by the then new Chairman Michael Grade (another former chief executive of Channel 4). His appointment was widely praised: Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell, Shadow Culture Secretary Julie Kirkbride and Greg Dyke were amongst those who supported his selection. He took up the role of Director-General on 22 June 2004[5] (Mark Byford had been Acting Director-General since Dyke's resignation). On his first day he announced several management changes, including the replacement of the BBC's sixteen-person executive committee with a slimmed-down executive board of nine top managers.

Editorial guideline breaches

In 2007 it emerged that the BBC had been involved in a number of editorial guideline breaches. Mark Thompson, as BBC editor-in-chief investigated these breaches, and presented his interim report to the BBC Trust on 18 July 2007.[6] The Trust felt that the BBC’s values of accuracy and honesty had been compromised, and Thompson outlined to the Trust the actions he would take to restore confidence.

Later that day he told BBC staff, via an internal televised message,[7] that deception of the public was never acceptable. He said that he, himself, had never deceived the public - it would never have occurred to him to do so, and that he was sure that the same applied to the "overwhelming majority" of BBC staff. He also spoke on BBC News 24[8] and was interviewed by Gavin Esler for Newsnight. He stated that "from now on, if it [deceiving the public] happens we will show people the door."[9] Staff were emailed on 19 July 2007[10] and later in the year all staff, including the Director-General undertook a Safeguarding Trust course.[11]

In October 2008, Thompson had to cut short a family holiday to return to Britain to deal with the Russell Brand Show prank telephone calls row. Thompson took the executive decision to suspend the BBC’s highest paid presenter, Jonathan Ross, from all his BBC work for three months without pay. He also said it was the controversial star’s last warning.[12] Nevertheless, Thompson reiterated the BBC’s commitment to Ross’ style of edgy comedy, claiming that “BBC audiences accept that, in comedy, performers attempt to push the line of taste”.[13] Thompson had previously defended the star’s conduct and salary in 2006, when he described Ross as “outstanding” and claimed that "the very best people" deserved appropriately high salaries.[14]


Programme production

In late 2007, Thompson's directorship at the BBC was criticised. Sir Richard Eyre, former artistic director of the National Theatre, accused the BBC under Thompson's leadership failing to produce programmes 'that inspired viewers to visit galleries, museums or theatres'.[15] He was also criticised by Tony Palmer, a multi-award winning film-maker. Of the BBC, Palmer stated that "[it] has a worldwide reputation which it has abrogated and that's shameful. In the end, the buck stops with Mark Thompson. He is a catastrophe."[16]

Jerry Springer: The Opera

He was severely criticised in relation to the broadcast of Jerry Springer: The Opera, with a private prosecution brought against the BBC for blasphemy. David Pannick QC appeared and won the case for BBC director-general Mark Thompson. The High Court ruled that the cult musical was not blasphemous, and Pannick stated that: "Judge Tubbs had acted within her powers and made the only decision she could lawfully have made; while religious beliefs were integral to British society, so is freedom of expression, especially to matters of social and moral importance."[17]

Accusations of Pro-Israeli editorial stance

A number of commentators have suggested that Thompson has a pro-Israeli editorial stance, particularly since he supported the controversial decision by the BBC not to broadcast the DEC Gaza appeal in January 2009.[18] Complaints to the BBC, numbering nearly 16,000, about the decision were directed to a statement by Thompson.[19]

Journalist Yvonne Ridley wrote in CounterPunch that "D-G Mark Thompson might not care much for the BBC’s reputation but he should have a duty of care to his staff because it looks as if his pro-Israel stance is now endangering the safety of his own news teams, many of whom find his views repugnant in any case" and with respect to his 2005 meeting with Ariel Sharon, wrote "Never before had any BBC Director-General embarked on such a meeting and references to it are removed continually from Thompson’s biography on Wikipedia, an indication of just how sensitive the whole event remains." [20] Tam Dean Burn wrote in The Herald (Glasgow) "I would argue that this bias has moved on apace since Thompson went to Israel in 2005 and signed a deal with prime minister Ariel Sharon on the BBC's coverage of the conflict." [21] Journalist Muhammad Idrees Ahmad wrote in CounterPunch that "the BBC's director general Mark Thompson can hardly be described as a disinterested party: in 2005 he made a trip to Jerusalem where he met with Ariel Sharon in what was seen in Israel as an attempt to 'build bridges' and 'a "softening" to the corporation's unofficial editorial line on the Middle East'"[22]

Nick Griffin

In October 2009, Thompson defended the decision by the BBC to invite British National Party leader Nick Griffin to appear on the Question Time programme following criticism by Labour politicians including Home Secretary Alan Johnson and Secretary of State for Wales Peter Hain. The decision also led to protests outside BBC Television Centre by UAF campaigners. Thompson said: "It is a straightforward matter of fact that … the BNP has demonstrated a level of support which would normally lead to an occasional invitation to join the panel on Question Time. It is for that reason alone … that the invitation has been extended. The case against inviting the BNP to appear on Question Time is a case for censorship … Democratic societies sometimes do decide that some parties and organisations are beyond the pale. As a result they proscribe them and/or ban them from the airwaves. My point is simply that the drastic steps of proscription and censorship can only be taken by government and parliament … It is unreasonable and inconsistent to take the position that a party like the BNP is acceptable enough for the public to vote for, but not acceptable enough to appear on democratic platforms like Question Time. If there is a case for censorship, it should be debated and decided in parliament. Political censorship cannot be outsourced to the BBC or anyone else."[23]

Sale of Formula One broadcast rights

Mark Thompson was Director General of the BBC when on the 29th July 2011 it was announced the Corporation would no longer televise all Formula One Grands Prix live, instead choosing to split the broadcast between the BBC and Sky Sports. This prompted an outcry from several thousand fans and a motion on the UK Government e-petition site. On 2 September 2011, Thompson and several "senior BBC figures" were called upon by the House of Commons to answer questions over the exact nature of the broadcast arrangement.[24]


In January 2010, Thompson was strongly criticised over the size of his £834,000 pay packet, and was told by one of his own journalists that "there are huge numbers of people in the organisation who think your salary is plain wrong and corrosive."[25]


In 2009 Thompson was ranked as the 65th most powerful person in the world by Forbes magazine.[26]

Broadcasting career

He first joined the BBC as a production trainee in 1979. His subsequent career within the organisation has been varied, including:

  • 1981 - assisted launching long-running consumer programme Watchdog
  • 1983 - assisted launching Breakfast Time
  • 1985 - Output Editor, Newsnight
  • 1988 - Editor, Nine O'Clock News (at the age of 30)
  • 1990 - Editor, Panorama
  • 1992 - Head of Features
  • 1994 - Head of Factual Programmes
  • 1996 - Controller, BBC Two
  • 1999 - Director, National and Regional Broadcasting
  • 2000 - he became BBC director of television, but left the corporation in March 2002 to become chief executive of Channel 4.
  • 2002 - Thompson joined the board of Trustees of Media Trust,[27] the UK's leading communications charity.

Personal life

Thompson lives in Oxford with his American Jewish [28] wife Jane Blumberg (daughter of Baruch Samuel Blumberg) whom he married in 1987. They have two sons and one daughter.[4] Thompson is a Roman Catholic, and attends the Oratory Church of St Aloysius Gonzaga. He is a member of the Reform Club[1] and a patron of the Art Room charity in Oxford.[29]


  1. ^ a b c “THOMPSON, Mark John Thompson,” in Who's Who 2009 (London: A & C Black, 2008); online ed., (Oxford: OUP, 2008), [1] (accessed January 25, 2009).
  2. ^ Public Sector pay: The numbers BBC News, 20 September 2010
  3. ^ Arlidge, John (16 December 2001). "The Observer Profile". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 12 May 2010. 
  4. ^ a b "NS Profile - Mark Thompson". New Statesman. 3 May 2004. Retrieved 2009-01-27. 
  5. ^ a b "BBC Press Office: Biographies - Mark Thompson". Retrieved 2007-10-12. 
  6. ^ Minutes of Trust meeting 18 July 2007
  7. ^ Key points: Thompson speech to staff on editorial breaches
  8. ^ News 24 interview on editorial guideline breaches (video)
  9. ^ Transcript of Newsnight interview on editorial breaches and staff honesty
  10. ^ Email from Mark Thompson to BBC staff on integrity
  11. ^ BBC to teach its stars honesty Daily Telegraph retrieved 8 March 2008
  12. ^ Ross suspended for three months
  13. ^ Russell Brand programme, BBC Radio 2, 18 October 2008
  14. ^ BBC defends Ross pay and conduct
  15. ^ Asthana, Anushka. "The Guardian: Arts chief warns of cultural 'apartheid'". London.,,2220530,00.html. Retrieved 2007-09-12. 
  16. ^ Smith, David. "The Guardian: Director blasts 'BBC ignorance'". London. Retrieved 2007-09-12. 
  17. ^, Jerry Springer play ruled not blasphemous
  18. ^ "Mark Thompson's Blog". 
  19. ^ "BBC and the Gaza appeal". 
  20. ^ Whitewashing Atrocity, Why You Won't See Me on the BBC, By YVONNE RIDLEY
  21. ^ To my mind and, it appears, to millions of others, the BBC is increasingly biased towards Israel in this conflict, Heraldscotland staff
  22. ^ The Way of Izvestia, The BBC's Nadir, By MUHAMMAD IDREES AHMAD
  23. ^ Booth, Robert (22 October 2009). "BBC is right to allow BNP on Question Time, says Mark Thompson". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 12 May 2010. 
  24. ^ Autosport. 2 September 2011. 
  25. ^ Wardrop, Murray (15 Jan 2010). "'Your salary is wrong and corrosive', Mark Thompson , BBC director general, told". The Telegraph (London). Retrieved 19 July 2010. 
  26. ^ "The World's Most Powerful People". Forbes. 11 November 2009. Retrieved November 12, 2009. 
  27. ^ "Media Trust website". 
  28. ^ Adams, Guy (29 November 2005). "BBC chief holds peace talks in Jerusalem with Ariel Sharon". The Independent (London). 
  29. ^ The Art Room

External links

Media offices
Preceded by
Mark Byford
Director-General of the BBC
Preceded by
Michael Jackson
Chief Executive of Channel 4
Succeeded by
Andy Duncan
Preceded by
Michael Jackson
Controller of BBC Two
Succeeded by
Jane Root

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