THE SON OF THE MAN FROM UNCLE

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THE SON is the £160,000 a year BBC Wales Director Rhodri Talfan Davies.

The man is Geraint Talfan Davies who held the same post for ten years.

The uncle is the late Sir Alun Talfan Davies — barrister, politician, businessman and a leading member of the Welsh establishment.

The Talfan Davies clan have been important players in Wales for half a century.

All are able people.

But eyebrows were raised when Rhodri Talfan Davies was given the job in 2011.

He was just 40 years of age.

He had never made a television programme in Wales.

He lived in England.

His appointment is shrouded in mystery.

No convincing reason has ever been given for his initial rejection — and subsequent appointment four months later.

He  declined to answer questions that nepotism and patronage may have played a part in his career development.

The BBC in London said these suggestions were absurd and did not “stand up to any form of sensible scrutiny”.

(Rebecca has made a declaration of interest in relation to this investigation — see the notes at the end of the article.)

♦♦♦

IN FEBRUARY 2011 three senior BBC executives from London convened to consider who should be the next Director of BBC Wales.

The trio — led by the Corporation’s deputy Director General Mark Byford — had interviewed seven shortlisted candidates to take over from Menna Richards, OBE.

One of them was Rhodri Talfan Davies.

He was already a member of the BBC Wales board, as Head of Strategy & Communications.

REMOTE CONTROLLER BBC Cymru Wales Director Rhodri Talfan Davies is the first-ever Director of the bi-lingual broadcaster to live in   another country. He has owned homes in Bristol for more than a decade and his children go to schools in the city. The issue of where he lived was to become an issue in the events leading up to his appointment.  Photo: BBC (supplied "in good faith, on the understanding that it will be used to illustrate a fair and balanced article" as BBC spokeswoman Kate Stokes helpfully pointed out)

REMOTE CONTROLLER
BBC CYMRU WALES Director Rhodri Talfan Davies is the first-ever head of the bi-lingual broadcaster to live in another country. He has owned homes in Bristol for more than a decade and his children go to schools in the city. The question of where he lived was to become an issue in the events leading up to his appointment.
Photo: BBC Wales (supplied “in good faith, on the understanding that it will be used to illustrate a fair and balanced article” as BBC spokeswoman Kate Stokes helpfully put it).

He had been appointed to the post four and half years earlier by a panel headed by then BBC Wales boss Menna Richards, a close friend of the Talfan Davies family.

Many insiders felt his board position combined with his membership of the Talfan Davies dynasty made him clear favourite for the job.

But Byford and the two other panel members — Journalism Group chief operating officer Dominic Coles and its human resources director Rachel Currie — stunned the Corporation’s 1,200 Welsh staff by deciding not to appoint.

On February 18, a spokeswoman announced that the search for a new Director “has been extended”.

An interim Director — the head of Welsh language programmes Keith Jones — was appointed.

His appointment was expected to last for “months”.

These events turned BBC Wales HQ in Cardiff’s Llandaff area into a ferment of gossip and speculation.

A week later a second press release was issued.

It said:

“The search for a new director of BBC Wales has been extended, after the first round of interviews failed to deliver a successful candidate.”

That search, said the BBC, “would continue until ‘the right person’ was found.”

“In light of the importance of this high-profile appointment it is clearly essential that the right person is appointed.”

“A number of strong candidates applied for the post and as we were unable to make an appointment we have extended the selection process.”

“The requirements for the role remain unchanged and we are currently finalising the approach we will take as part of this process.”

After his application failed, Talfan Davies was given the job of carrying out a strategic review of the BBC’s digital services.

The Corporation said this was a “pan BBC review which required travel between bases.”

“His main bases during this period were Cardiff and London.”

After the dramatic events of February, March passed without any new developments.

April came and went without a progress report.

May went the way of April.

Senior managers on the third floor of Broadcasting House in Llandaff were tight-lipped throughout June — and most of July.

The silence was finally broken on July 26 with the announcement that the new Director was … Rhodri Talfan Davies.

BBC Director General Mark Thompson gave him a glowing endorsement:

“His deep understanding of Wales — and the BBC’s crucial role in the nation’s life — will equip him brilliantly for the challenge of leading such a successful and ambitious part of the organisation.”

MARK THOMPSON The BBC's Director General when Rhodri Talfan Davies was appointed.  Photo: PA

MARK THOMPSON
THE BBC’s Director General when Rhodri Talfan Davies was appointed, Thompson praised the new BBC Wales Director’s “deep understanding of Wales”. Thompson left the BBC in September 2012 and is now chief executive officer of the New York Times group.
Photo: PA

Talfan Davies was “thrilled” and “sincerely honoured” to have been chosen.

“BBC Cymru Wales is of enormous importance to the creative and cultural life of the nation and is performing brilliantly on the UK networks.”

“There’s a great wealth of talent in the creative industries in Wales and I feel privileged to have the opportunity to lead the fantastic team at BBC Wales.”

Rebecca asked Kate Stokes, Head of Communications & External Affairs at BBC Wales, if there had been another round of interviews for the position in the run-up to the July announcement.

We also asked for details of the formal search for other candidates announced after the February interviews failed to come up with a successful candidate.

She said:

“As a matter of policy, the BBC does not disclose this level of detail around the recruitment of staff.”

The only hint of any problem in the selection process came in an article in the Western Mail newspaper.

“It is understood Mr Davies’ appointment was delayed because of concerns that he lives in Bristol,” chief reporter Martin Shipton noted.

“On taking up his appointment, it has been agreed that he will live in Cardiff during the week, returning to his family home at the weekends.”

Kate Stokes told us:

“It is a matter of public record that Rhodri’s family home — at the time of his appointment — was in Bristol.”

“In September 2011, in a Western Mail article, Rhodri confirmed his appointment as Director had been delayed because of concerns that his family home was in Bristol rather than Wales.”

Rebecca asked Kate Stokes to clarify this issue.

Was the “delay” a factor in the weeks leading up to the July appointment?

Or had it been the stumbling block back in February?

Was Talfan Davies rejected because deputy Director General Mark Byford wouldn’t tolerate a BBC Wales Director living in England?

In reponse, she said that “the reasons for the delay between Rhodri’s interview and appointment … is a matter of public record …”

She again cited the Western Mail interview where the Director “confirmed that his appointment … had been delayed because of concerns that his family home was in Bristol rather than Wales.”

We also asked her to confirm that the paper’s comment about him staying in Cardiff during the working week was accurate.

She told us:

“To be clear, Rhodri gave an assurance on taking up the role that he would spend his working week at the BBC Wales HQ in Cardiff (except where he was required to travel to London or other BBC centres as part of his role).”

♦♦♦

WHEN BBC Wales announced the appointment of Rhodri Talfan Davies in July 2011, there were two pieces of information that were conspicuous by their absence.

The first was his age.

He was just 40 — the youngest ever Director of BBC Wales.

The second was his journalistic experience of Wales.

It was virtually zero.

There is no doubt, however, that the new Director is an intelligent man — like his father, he attended Jesus College, Oxford.

He was born in Cardiff in 1973.

At the time his father was approaching the peak of his career as a print journalist.

Geraint Talfan Davies had started in 1966 as a graduate trainee at the Western Mail in Cardiff.

In 1971 he joined the Newcastle daily, The Journal.

By 1973, the year of his second son Rhodri’s birth, he was working for The Times in London.

The following year he returned to the Western Mail as assistant editor.

He moved into broadcasting in 1978 as head of news and current affairs at what was then HTV Wales.

At the time, his uncle Sir Alun Talfan Davies was the chairman of the Welsh board of the company which held the ITV franchise for Wales and the West Country.

THE MAN FROM UNCLE Geraint Talfan Davies acquired the nickname in 1978 when he was appointed head of news and current affairs at HTV Wales. His uncle, Sir Alun Talfan Davies, was chairman of the Welsh board. There was little criticism when he was appointed Controller of BBC Wales in 1990 — he had served a long apprenticeship in Welsh newspapers and television. He stood down in 2000 but remains active in public life — he's currently chairman of the Welsh National Opera.

THE MAN FROM UNCLE
GERAINT TALFAN DAVIES, who published his autobiography in 2008, acquired the nickname in 1978 when he was appointed head of news and current affairs at HTV Wales. His uncle, Sir Alun Talfan Davies, was chairman of the Welsh board. There was no criticism when he was appointed Controller of BBC Wales in 1990 — he had served a long apprenticeship in newspapers and television. He stood down in 2000 but remains active in public life: he’s currently chairman of the Welsh National Opera.

This is where his nickname — “The Man From Uncle” — comes from.

His son went to the Welsh-medium secondary school, Ysgol Gyfun Gymaeg Glantaf, in Llandaff — not far from the HQ of BBC Wales.

In 1987, however, the family moved to Newcastle upon Tyne when Geraint Talfan Davies was appointed Director of Programmes for Tyne Tees Television.

Rhodri Talfan Davies went to Newcastle’s Royal Grammar School before going to Oxford in 1989.

In 1992 he spent a year on the post-graduate course at Cardiff University’s School of Journalism.

Then it was time to start forging a career.

♦♦♦

IT BEGAN — as it had done for his father — on the Western Mail.

 in 1993 Rhodri Talfan Davies spent a short period on the newspaper as a sub-editor in Cardiff.

These few months are his only journalistic employment in Wales.

Later the same year, he was accepted as a news trainee at the BBC.

His father was, by this time, running BBC Wales.

His son went to work in the English regions.

For six years, between 1993 and 1999, he worked for various regional news and documentary strands in the North of England and the South East.

He started as a journalist and was promoted to producer.

Then, in 1999. he landed a major post — head of BBC West in Bristol.

His title was Head of Regional & Local Programmes.

The appointment came as a surprise to many at the BBC West headquarters in Bristol’s Whiteladies Road.

He was just 28.

He had never worked in the BBC West region.

He had no formal managerial experience.

(When his father was 28, he was still only a reporter on The Journal in Newcastle.

At 28, Menna Richards, was just a radio and television journalist at BBC Wales.)

Rhodri Talfan Davies and his wife Estelle moved to Bristol.

But in 2002  he moved on.

He went to work for the cable operator Telewest as Director of Television.

He stayed for four years and was part of the team which won a UK Bafta award in 2004 for its pioneering interactive and “catch-up” facilities.

In July 2006 he applied for the job of Head of Marketing, Communications & Audiences at BBC Wales in Cardiff.

The four-strong interviewing panel was headed by Menna Richards.

He was appointed — and joined the board — despite never having worked for BBC Wales.

Aside from a year as a student in Cardiff, he had not lived in Wales for nearly twenty years.

The son of the man from uncle was now 35.

(When Menna Richards was 35, she was still a journalist at HTV Wales.

Geraint Talfan Davies, at 35, had just been appointed to his first job in broadcasting — head of news and current affairs at HTV Wales — after twelve years as a print journalist.)

The man Talfan Davies replaced as Head of Marketing, Communications & Audiences was Huw Roberts.

Appointed in 2002, Roberts had a formidable CV.

He’d been ITN’s chief press officer for five years.

He’d spent a year as a senior special advisor to the Welsh Office in 1997-1998, working for Ron Davies

He’d spent two years as the Welsh Development Agency’s Head of Marketing.

He also had a decade of press and information experience at various government departments including the Welsh Office.

BBC communications chief Kate Stokes told Rebecca that Talfan Davies “accepted a lower salary than his predecessor had received”.

In 2009 another important string was added to his bow — only this time he didn’t have to apply for it.

Menna Richards decided to change his job description.

MENNA RICHARDS, OBE Awarded the honour in 2010, she stood down from the post of Director in February 2011. There was little criticism of her appointment back in 2000 even though she was a close friend of Geraint Talfan Davies. She had served a long apprenticeship  — all of it in Wales. Photo: PA

MENNA RICHARDS, OBE
AWARDED THE honour in 2010, she stood down from the post of Director in February 2011. There was little criticism of her appointment back in 2000 even though she was a close friend of Geraint Talfan Davies. She had served a long apprenticeship — all of it in Wales.                                                                  Photo: PA

Instead of Head of Marketing, Communications & Audiences, she dropped marketing and audiences from his portfolio — and added strategy.

The post was now Head of Strategy & Communications.

Although a head of strategy had previously existed, it was not a board level position.

Strategy is an important position because it allows the holder to be a part of the Corporation’s forward planning.

It gave Rhodri Talfan Davies an inside track on what any new Director of BBC Wales might face.

The decision to add Strategy to his portfolio was Menna Richards’ sole decision.

It was, BBC Wales’ spokeswoman Kate Stokes told us, a decision “unique to Wales.”

“The new job … incorporated a wider set of responsibilities at Board level, but the salary did not change,” she said.

But, later, she changed her position.

“By way of correction to the previous response we gave you,” she said, “the additional responsibilities were recognised via a small increase but we do not disclose individual salary levels below Director level.”

 ♦♦♦

WHEN HE was took up the post of Head of Marketing, Communications & Audiences  in July 2006, Rhodri Talfan Davies decided he wouldn’t move his family to Wales.

At that point, he had two children — the first-born between 4 and 5, the second just a toddler.

This would have been a perfect time to start educating his children in Welsh-medium schools — as he had been.

But in 2002 he had bought a house in Westbury Park, Bristol for £329,000 and he and his wife Estelle decided to stay put.

By the time he applied for the post of Director, in the early months of 2011, he had also made up his mind that his family would not move to Wales.

In fact, in the months that followed he and his wife were negotiating to buy a more expensive property in the same area of Bristol.

In June 2011 the original house was sold for £477,500 — and a new one bought for £545,000.

The following month he was appointed Director of BBC Wales.

When he took up the post in September 2011, Talfan Davies admitted the issue of where he lived had delayed his appointment.

“Clearly it wasn’t ideal that my family home was in Bristol,” he told the Western Mail in September 2011, “but certainly I’ve given assurances that I would be based in Cardiff throughout the week.”

He added that “my wife and I moved 11 times during the first eight years of my career [1993-2001] and we took a view five or six years ago that while our children — aged 10, seven and one — are school age that we would offer them as much stability as possible, wherever my career led.”

He said Director General Mark Thompson had been concerned that he lived in England.

“Mark, I suspect, thought long and hard about that.”

“He came to the view in the end that that situation wouldn’t impact on my ability to do the job and I’m very grateful for the support he’s shown.”

The new Director was 40 years old.

(When his father, Geraint, was 40 he had risen to the heights of Assistant Controller of Programmes at HTV Wales.

It was to be another six years before he took the top job at BBC Wales.

The woman Rhodri Talfan Davies replaced as Director, Menna Richards OBE, was Director of Programmes at HTV Wales on her 40th birthday.

She had to wait until she was 47 before she took the top job at BBC Wales.)

On his first day as Director at Broadcasting House, Talfan Davies also discussed what he called “sniffy” comments about a family dynasty.

“I don’t worry about it too much.”

“Inevitably people may scratch their heads and say how is it that he can be appointed.”

“The truth is you see this in a whole range of fields.”

“There are plenty of friends I have who are teachers whose parents were teachers.”

“There are Welsh rugby internationals whose parents are rugby internationals.”

“I was brought up in an environment where there was a real passion for media and broadcasting and I guess that rubbed off.”

“I think the people I work with judge me on what I do rather than what previous relatives have done.”

He took a lower salary than Menna Richards — £140,000 against her £185,000.

But his confidential contract also carried with it a commitment to increase his salary by £20,000 after 18 months if certain targets were met.

BBC Wales has never disclosed what these targets were.

He got his £20,000 increase…

♦♦♦

SO WHAT is the truth about Rhodri Talfan Davies’ appointment?

Was he simply a brilliant and precocious administrator, streets ahead of the competition?

Or was he fortunate to come from a powerful media dynasty and well-placed to join the Corporation at a time when a close friend of the family was in charge of BBC Wales?

Rebecca wrote to the Director and asked him if the influence of his father and Menna Richards played any part in the four key “booster rockets” that catapulted him to the top of BBC Wales.

Booster Rocket 1

This was his appointment to Head of Regional & Local Programmes at BBC West at the tender age of 28.

We asked him how a producer with just six years in news and no formal managerial experience could possibly have beaten candidates with a more developed CV?

Was the fact that his father was the head of BBC Wales at the time and an influential figure in the Corporation a factor?

He didn’t reply — although the BBC’s Kate Stokes claimed that he had “significant management experience in a busy news environment.”

We asked the son to put this question to his father.

Geraint Talfan Davies didn’t answer.

Booster Rocket 2

This was Rhodri Talfan Davies’ promotion to Head of Marketing, Communications & Audiences at BBC Wales in 2006.

There is no doubt that he had marketing credentials, having worked for Telewest for several years in a senior role.

But he had no work experience in Wales beyond a short stint as a sub-editor on the Western Mail back in 1993.

He had not lived in Wales for most of the previous two decades.

We asked him why Menna Richards had not declared an interest in his application on the grounds that she was a close friend of his father — and withdrawn from the interviewing panel.

He didn’t answer.

We also asked him to put this question to Menna Richards.

She didn’t respond.

Booster Rocket 3

In 2009 the key role of Strategy was added to his job title by Menna Richards.

The new role wasn’t advertised.

She also gave him an unspecified pay rise.

We asked him if the purpose of this change was to give him an inside track on the Corporation’s thinking about the way forward, both nationally and in Wales.

This was another question he wouldn’t answer.

Menna Richards was also silent on the subject.

Booster Rocket 4

Even though he was ruled out as a potential Director in the February 2011 interviews carried out by Mark Byford, he still managed to stay in the running and land the top job in July.

We asked him if deputy Director General Mark Byford, who chaired the February interview board, had decided either that he did not have enough experience or that his decision to stay in Bristol ruled him out.

We asked if the fact that Mark Byford had accepted redundancy the previous October had played a part.

MARK BYFORD Deputy Director General of the BBC when the panel he chaired rejected Rhodri Talfan Davies for the post of BBC Wales Director. He left the Corporation the month before Rhodri Talfan Davies was appointed — and later was at the centre of a storm over his £1 million redundancy package and a £163,000 a year pension. Photo: PA

NO WAY
MARK BYFORD was deputy Director General of the BBC when the panel he chaired rejected Rhodri Talfan Davies for the post of BBC Wales Director. Byford left the Corporation the month before Talfan Davies was appointed. He was later at the centre of a storm over a £1 million redundancy package and his £163,000 a year pension.  Photo: PA

Byford left in June 2011 and the appointment was sanctioned — apparently without any further interviews — by the then Director General Mark Thompson a month later.

Had Thompson been in favour all along — and told Talfan Davies to bide his time until Byford was out of the picture?

Again, Talfan Davies didn’t answer these questions.

We also wrote to Mark Byford at his Winchester home.

He didn’t reply.

We asked Mark Thompson, now in charge of the New York Times, for a comment.

He didn’t come back to us.

♦♦♦

IN THE letter to Rhodri Talfan Davies, Rebecca also tackled the issue of him living in Bristol.

We pointed out that “many observers will find it hard to accept that, on your 2006 appointment to the Head of Marketing, Communications & Audiences, you did not move your family to Wales.”
 
“Your eldest child was just four or five and at an ideal age to start primary education in a Welsh-medium school.”
 
“Your decision to stay in Bristol leaves you open to the charge that, in relation to English language programmes, you are an ‘absentee landlord’.”

“In relation to Welsh-language output, you are — by virtue of the fact that your family is growing up mainly outside the cultural life of Welsh-speaking Wales — a ‘remote controller’.”

He didn’t reply.

We also made several further attempts to clear up the central mystery in his appointment — what happened in the four months between his rejection in February 2011 and his appointment in July 2011?

We asked BBC Wales what the short-listed candidates were told in February.

We asked what Talfan Davies was told.

We asked for more information about the widening of the search for other candidates.

That search, BBC Wales said at the time, “would continue until ‘the right person’ was found.”

We asked if there was another round of interviews before Talfan Davies was appointed.

Kate Stokes, Head of Communications & External Affairs, told us “the BBC does not disclose the sort of details you have requested on staff recruitment …”

She did comment on the apparent contradiction between the rejection of  Talfan Davies in February (“after the first round of interviews failed to deliver a successful candidate”) and his appointment in July.

She insisted the “delay does not contradict the BBC statement in February 2011 that ‘the first round of interviews failed to deliver a successful candidate’.”

“The only reason Rhodri was not a successful candidate — i.e. appointed — at that time was because of concerns over his Bristol family home.”

We also asked why Talfan Davies living in Bristol was a problem in February — but no longer an issue when he was appointed in July.

There was no reply by the time this article was published.

When we sent our letter to Talfan Davies we asked for a response by close of play last Thursday.

By Friday morning it was clear that there would be no reply.

Rebecca then sent copies of the letter to Director General Lord Hall and BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten.

A spokesperson for the Trust said “this is a matter for Rhodri Talfan Davies”.

On Friday afternoon the BBC Press Office in London gave us a statement.

“The suggestion that Rhodri Talfan Davies was appointed Director for any reason other than being the best candidate for the job is absurd and doesn’t stand up to any form of sensible scrutiny.”

♦♦♦

 NOTES

1  The refusal of BBC Wales to answer questions about sensitive issues is not surprising. Across Welsh broadcasting there’s a history of censorship — for ITV Wales see A Man of Conviction? about the suppression of material damaging to Welsh Ofcom chair Rhodri Williams. A Licence To Censor tells the story of how a critical documentary on Welsh Rugby Union chairman David Pickering’s financial problems came to be shelved. Back at BBC Wales, In The Name Of The Father? examines the career of Menna Richards, a close family friend of the Talfan Davies clan. 

2  Rebecca is in dispute with BBC Wales over the Corporation’s failure to cover some of the material the website has published. In particular, we have complained about the decision to ignore major investigations into freemasonry, censorship in Welsh broadcasting and child abuse in North Wales. This led to an unsuccessful complaint to BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten. There will be more  on this in forthcoming articles.

♦♦♦ 

© Rebecca 2013

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3 Responses to THE SON OF THE MAN FROM UNCLE

  1. Victor Wallace says:

    Another case for privatising the BBC

  2. Gregor says:

    Aneurin Bevan: “Entitlement to advancement on grounds of merit alone, free from any tinge of political nepotism, must be jealously guarded”. And him a Welshman, too, letting the side down.

  3. Frederick says:

    One gets the impression that the BBC is inhabited by a type of creature that enjoys dwelling in dark places, seldom coming up into the light for fear of ‘seeing’ the truth.
    Wonderful journalism, I like the short, sharp , precise sentences. Thank you.

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