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New BBC boss Tim Davie tries to lure back Andrew Neil

The BBC’s new director-general has held talks with Andrew Neil to try and convince him to return to the corporation.

On his second day in the role, Tim Davie held a Zoom call with Mr Neil, who left the BBC in March, and made him a number of formal offers, as reported by The Sunday Telegraph.

Mr Neil – famed for his forensic no-holds-barred interviews – is understood to have spent most of the pandemic in France after The Andrew Neil Show was taken off air.

Sources close to the director-general told the newspaper: ‘Tim Davie wants Andrew Neil back at the BBC because he is a b***** good broadcaster. 

‘There has always been a collective desire to have him in the fold because of his talent.’ 

It comes as Mr Davie is understood to be keen to shake off criticism that the BBC is too left-wing. 

The BBC today revealed The Andrew Neil Show will end as the corporation slashes a further 70 jobs in BBC News, taking the total number of redundancies to 520

The BBC today revealed The Andrew Neil Show will end as the corporation slashes a further 70 jobs in BBC News, taking the total number of redundancies to 520 

Addressing staff at the BBC’s Cardiff office, Davie said: ‘If you want to be an opinionated columnist or a partisan campaigner on social media then that is a valid choice, but you should not be working at the BBC.’ 

He added: ‘Our research shows that too many perceive us to be shaped by a particular perspective.’

Davie said new rules around employees’ use of social media will be introduced and will be ‘rigorously enforced’, while also hinting at a crackdown on the corporation’s stars making money from private companies, adding there will be ‘clearer direction on the declaration of external interests’.

Davie added: ‘To be clear, this is not about abandoning democratic values such as championing fair debate or an abhorrence of racism. But it is about being free from political bias, guided by the pursuit of truth, not a particular agenda.’

Mr Neil, who is chairman of the Spectator magazine, has previously been accused by left-wing commentators as sympathetic to Brexit and previously described The Mash Report, the BBC Two satirical show, as ‘Left-wing propaganda’. 

But he is widely seen across the political spectrum as a formidable political interviewer and is understood to be willing to curb his social media posting if hired back by the BBC.

Mr Neil is also thought to be mulling over other offers to return to television, so his return to the corporation is far from set in stone. 

New BBC Director General Tim Davie is pictured delivering his first speech with a few warning shots

New BBC Director General Tim Davie is pictured delivering his first speech with a few warning shots

Several other BBC star names has also been accused of bias in the past. 

Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis was criticised for her opening monologue about the Government’s handling of Dominic Cummings’ lockdown trip.

The BBC ruling the introduction ‘did not meet our standards of due impartiality’.

And BBC Breakfast host Naga Munchetty was rebuked last year after commenting on remarks made by US President Donald Trump. Then-chief Lord Tony Hall later reversed the decision.

In the speech on Thursday last week Davie also addressed doubts over the future viability of the licence fee funding model.

He said he was not in favour of a Netflix-style subscription fee that would make the BBC ‘just another media company serving a specific group’.

He said: ‘The evidence is unequivocal: the future of a universal BBC can no longer be taken for granted. We have no inalienable right to exist.

‘We are only as good as the value we deliver our audiences, our customers. We must grow that value. That is our simple mission.

‘For the avoidance of doubt, I do not want a subscription BBC that serves the few. We could make a decent business out of it, and I suspect it could do quite well in certain postcodes, but it would make us just another media company serving a specific group.’

Elsewhere Davie, the 17th director-general, suggested there could be a cull of content at the broadcaster.

‘The truth is that we have tried to cope with increasing competition by making more and spreading ourselves too thinly,’ he said,

‘Of course, we need to offer a broad choice as the BBC, and we should not retreat to a narrow offer. But we have been too slow to stop things that don’t work.’

Davie said the BBC will ‘look in all areas’ and ‘identify how we can have more impact by making less’.

He added: ‘I want us to consider what we would do if we could only make 80% of our current hours. What would we stop?’

He said the ‘simple’ move was not ‘about cuts to save money’.

Davie praised dramas such as Normal People, Line Of Duty, Fleabag, an EastEnders special and documentaries Blue Planet 2 and Once Upon A Time In Iraq.

He said Strictly Come Dancing, Wimbledon, comedy This Country, the BBC’s VE Day 75 coverage, educational service BBC Bitesize, the World Service and regional and national news were all examples of where the broadcaster builds a connection with the audience.

But the BBC must re-allocate ‘funds to where they generate most value – to ensure that we make our output world-beating and utterly distinctive’.

He also said there was ‘too much bureaucracy’, adding: ‘I want every area of the BBC not to moan about bureaucracy but dismantle it.’  

From the ‘Empty Chair’ to Owen Jones: Some of Andrew Neil’s ‘greatest hits’ at the BBC

Andrew Neil explains why he wants to interview Boris Johnson prior to the election

Andrew Neil explains why he wants to interview Boris Johnson prior to the election

The ‘Empty Chair’: Neil vs Boris Johnson, December 2019

Mr Neil delivered a direct interview challenge to Boris Johnson during the 2019 General Election, telling him it was ‘not too late’ to accept his invitation to chat before the poll.

Mr Johnson had refused to be interviewed by Mr Neil, who had spoken with Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn and the Lib Dems’ Jo Swinson.

During an ’empty chair’ moment,Mr Neil said: ‘There is of course still one to be done, Boris Johnson. We have been asking him for weeks now to give us a date, a time, a venue. As of now, none has been forthcoming.’ 

‘It is not too late. We have an interview prepared. Oven-ready, as Mr Johnson likes to say. The theme running through our questions is trust – and why at so many times in his career, in politics and journalism, critics and sometimes even those close to him have deemed him to be untrustworthy. 

‘It is, of course, relevant to what he is promising us all now.’

Neil vs Ben Shapiro: May 2019

Mr Neil clashed with US conservative commentator Ben Shapiro on the BBC’s Politics Live last year.

Mr Shapiro was subjected to a tough interview by Mr Neil about previous remarks he had made, including ‘Israelis like to build, Arabs like to bomb crap’ and his support for new abortion laws in Georgia.

The American, formerly of Breitbart, then accused Mr Neil of bias and suggested abortions after more than six weeks of pregnancy were brutal.

‘You purport to be an objective journalist,’ Mr Shapiro said. ‘The BBC purports to be an objective, down-the-middle network. It obviously is not, it never has been, and you as a journalist are proceeding to call one side of the political aisle ignorant, barbaric and sending us back to the dark ages.’

Mr Shapiro later said that he had been ‘destroyed’ by Mr Neil in the interview.

Neil vs Owen Jones: January 2019 

Mr Neil and commentator Owen Jones clashed in a row during the broadcast of the This Week programme.

The row began after Mr Jones made a film about far-Right protesters who harassed him and other journalists.

During the debate, Mr Jones raised Mr Neil’s work outside his role at the BBC as chairman of the Press Holdings media group which publishes the weekly magazine The Spectator.

As the debate drew to a close Mr Jones claimed the editorial line of The Spectator and other papers legitimised some far-Right views, provoking an angry response from Mr Neil.

Mr Neil told Mr Jones: ‘Your smears and lies about me are not going to be dealt with tonight so just move off it.’ 

Neil vs Paris jihadists: November 2015

Mr Neil delivered a rousing speech against the Paris attackers who ‘slaughtered 132 innocents to prove the future belongs to them, rather than a civilisation like France’. 

In his rousing message, he listed the artists and theorists who shaped French culture and who overshadow ISIS’s beliefs and acts.

‘I can’t say I fancy their chances. France. The country of Descartes, Monet, Sartre Rousseau to Camus, Renoir, Berlioz, Daft Punk, Zizou Zidane,’ he said. ‘Liberté, égalité, fraternité and crème Brulee.

‘Versus what? Beheadings, crucifixions, amputations, slavery, mass murder, medieval squalor and a death cult barbarity that would shame the Middle Ages.’

He then thundered: ‘I think the outcome is pretty clear to everyone but you. You will lose. In a thousand year’s time, Paris, that glorious city of lights, will still be shining bright as will every other city like it. And you will be as dust, along with the ragbag of fascist Nazis and Stalinists that previously dared to challenge democracy and failed.’ 

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