OWEN SMITH: FORGED BY PATRONAGE & NEPOTISM?

August 3, 2016

Note: this article was originally published on the Press Gang website.

Owen_Smith_head_400c

WHY HAS there been so little examination of Owen Smith’s career by the British press?

In the two weeks since Smith became Jeremy Corbyn’s sole challenger for the Labour leadership, journalists have largely accepted his CV at face value.

For national newspapers he’s a credible candidate.

Smith says:

“I want to be a force for good in the world. Therefore, you need to achieve power. Nye Bevan, my great hero, said it’s all about achieving and exercising power. I’ve devoted my life to that.”

No-one has drilled down into this statement.

Press Gang investigation into Owen Smith’s 24 year career shows little dedication to politics — or any other profession:

he displayed no appetite for a political career — until he walked into a plum job for Cabinet Minister Paul Murphy.

he had no experience of lobbying — until he was appointed to handle “government affairs” for the UK branch of global pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.

he had absolutely no journalistic experience — until he was appointed a producer at BBC Radio Wales.

The only constant in his working life is his father Dai Smith, historian-turned-broadcasting mandarin and a key figure in the Welsh establishment.

Dai Smith was a senior manager at BBC Wales for most of his son’s ten-year stint there — and he and his friends have been influential figures in his political career.

So is Owen Smith’s current high-profile the result of nepotism and patronage?

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TWO DAYS after Owen Smith became the sole challenger to Jeremy Corbyn, the BBC published an article called “The Owen Smith Story”.

There’s a fascinating paragraph about his early career:

“After studying history and French at the University of Sussex, he joined BBC Wales as a radio producer. His father, Dai, was appointed editor of BBC Wales and head of programmes in the same year.”

DaiSmith_35
NEVER SAY DAI
DAI SMITH, Owen Smith’s father, insists he’s played no part in his son’s career. Smith the father was born in the Rhondda valley, educated at Oxford and is a well-known Welsh left-wing historian with several landmark books to his name. By the early 1980s he was also presenting TV programmes for BBC Wales and gradually became an important figure at its HQ in Cardiff. In 1992 he became editor of Radio Wales and, in 1994, was appointed head of English language programmes — becoming the second most powerful BBC man in Wales.
Photo: Parthian Books 

Ignoring the inaccuracies — there has never been an editor of BBC Wales and Dai Smith didn’t become head of programmes until 1994 — it’s worth noting the order of these two sentences.

The first sentence says Owen Smith joined Radio Wales as a radio producer.

The second says his father was appointed editor of BBC Wales “in the same year”.

The impression being conveyed is that Owen was appointed first and his father Dai Smith second.

In other words, the egg (Owen) got his job before the chicken (Dai).

But, if that’s the case, why didn’t the BBC just say so?

Press Gang has been trying to solve this riddle.

We spoke to Dai Smith — he insisted that Owen was already working at BBC Wales when he arrived.

We asked BBC Wales boss Rhodri Talfan Davies which came first: Owen Egg or Chicken Dai?

There was no answer.

We also asked Owen Smith about this.

He never came back to us.

But then, out of the blue, we received an extraordinary email from the man who claims to have first employed him at BBC Wales …

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AT FIVE o’clock on Monday night Nick Evans, a former senior producer on Radio Wales, wrote to us from Tenerife.

“Owen and Dai have forwarded the points you put to Dai about his role in Owen’s career,” he wrote.

“I hope I can clarify some aspects of the timeline.”

Nick Evans said that in the early 1990s he was working on the Meet For Lunch midday programme presented by Vincent Kane, BBC Wales’ leading presenter.

When Kane wasn’t able to present the programme, Dai Smith would often stand in.

On some of these occasions, in the summer and early autumn of 1992, Dai Smith brought the young Owen Smith into Broadcasting House in Cardiff and introduced him to Evans.

Evans said:

“As I did with anyone who approached me for work (it was Owen himself) and who was clearly bright, committed and possessed of proper integrity, I gave him some casual work.”

“So it is no surprise that he rose quickly — both in Wales and London.”

Press Gang asked Evans for more detail.

When he replied, there was a change of emphasis:

“When Owen started it was when he was still considering the Swansea option.

(Owen Smith had been planning to do an MA at Swansea University.)

“I liked him”, said Evans, “and knew he was considering his options and offered as I often did the chance to come in and ‘shadow’ / work as a researcher on MFL [Meet For Lunch].

After a few days unpaid work experience, Evans gave him paid freelance work.

“Then he got a contract job on the programme as a researcher through the next competitive board (which no-one other than myself had any say over, apart from HR [Human Resources].”

“He had no experience as such … but then again nor did many of the others who came through the same (yes loose) process.”

“It might not have been as rigorous a system as has became the norm but it had its merits and I can put my hand on (very self-examining) heart and say that Owen got where he got (when I had a say) absolutely because he was (often head and shoulders) the best person.”

When Dai Smith became Editor of Radio Wales, Evans said the two of them tried to avoid favouritism:

“… much of what myself and Dai attempted was to try and move away from the kind of nepotism that had pervaded the Welsh media for years … maybe didn’t work for long … but I tried.”

He made it clear that “Owen became (as Dai did) a close friend.”

Nick Evans’ comments leave many unanswered questions but it’s clear Dai Smith was already an important fixture at Radio Wales long before he was appointed Editor — and while his son was still a student at Sussex University.

It’s also clear that Dai Smith was instrumental in introducing his son to a senior producer on the Meet For Lunch programme.

The unanswered question is: would Owen Smith ever have got a foothold in the BBC if his father hadn’t been Dai Smith?

♦♦♦ 

FOR TEN years Owen Smith was a competent but undistinguished broadcaster.

Neither Owen Smith nor the BBC would provide a detailed chronology of his career.

There’s no evidence Dai Smith intervened to further his son’s prospects.

There’s no evidence Owen Smith tried to take advantage of his father’s position.

Owen Smith worked on many radio programmes before moving to television producing the BBC Wales flagship political programme Dragon’s Eye.

Insiders say his Dragon’s Eye performance ranged from “tough and uncompromising” to “heavy-handed” with some accusations of “bullying” of junior staff.

For a spell he worked on the Radio 4 Today programme in London.

Owen Smith claimed there was a culture of bullying at Today.

rhodri-talfan-davies
FATHERS’ BOYS
THERE ARE remarkable similarities between the current Director of BBC Wales, Rhodri Talfan Davies (above), and Owen Smith. They’re both in their mid 40s — Talfan Davies is 45, Owen Smith 46. Both rose to prominence when relatively young, both have powerful fathers — and both face questions about the role of nepotism and patronage in their careers. Rhodri Talfan Davies is a member of a powerful media clan which has controlled BBC Wales for a quarter of a century — his father Geraint Talfan Davies was BBC boss from 1990 to 2000. An investigation by Press Gang’s sister website Rebecca entitled The Son Of The Man From Uncle revealed that Rhodri Talfan Davies’ rise to the top was eased by the previous Director, Menna Richards, who was a close friend of Geraint Talfan Davies. Rhodri Davies was just 40 when he took over from Menna Richards in 2011 but the appointment was dogged by controversy. He was initially rejected before BBC Director General Mark Thompson stepped in to confirm the post. BBC Wales is extremely touchy about allegations of nepotism and patronage surrounding the Talfan Davies clique. In 2014 it refused to answer any further questions on the subject, telling Rebecca “… we will not be commenting in future other than in truly exceptional circumstances”.
Photo: Wales Online

Former Today editor Rod Liddle believed that charge was levelled against him because he had once criticised Smith.

Smith had been asked to arrange a police spokesman for the programme.

To the amazement of colleagues he picked up the phone and dialled 999 to arrange one.

The police complained.

Liddle said:

” … there was a culture of shouting at Owen when he did something deranged”.

Liddle added that, aside from this one mistake, he was “perfectly competent”.

But Smith never secured promotion to senior editorial roles at the BBC, either in London or Cardiff.

By the early 2000s, according to one insider, he faced a future of either moving sideways — or out.

In 2000 the boss of BBC Wales, Geraint Talfan Davies, retired.

Talfan Davies had been a strong supporter of Dai Smith.

The new broom, Menna Richards, was not.

Dai Smith left BBC Wales to become Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University of Glamorgan.

In 2002, Owen Smith also decided to switch tack — and became a special adviser to the South Wales MP, Paul Murphy, who was Secretary of State for Wales.

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AGAIN, THERE’S no evidence of a political backstory.

Owen Smith is on record as saying the 1984 miners’ strike was his “political awakening” and that he joined the Labour Party when he was 16.

However, as far as the public record is concerned, he then seems to have lapsed into a political coma.

Press Gang asked him what other political activity he’d been involved in  — student politics, constituency activism or involvement in local politics.

He didn’t answer the question.

His appointment as a “special advisor” to Paul Murphy, a veteran Labour MP representing the South Wales seat of Torfaen, came as a surprise to many Labour Party members in Wales.

Smith’s experience as a political journalist at BBC Wales qualified him to be a special adviser at the Wales Office.

But was another family connection also involved in the appointment?

Paul Murphy is a friend of Dai Smith.

Press Gang asked Murphy if this played any part in the appointment.

He replied saying it hadn’t.

Paul Murphy
MURPHY’S LAW
PAUL MURPHY insists Owen Smith’s appointment as one of his special advisers at the Wales and Northern Ireland Office had nothing to do with his friendship with Dai Smith. But he wouldn’t explain how Owen Smith came to be chosen. Murphy was a leading figure in Welsh Labour for many decades and MP for the south-east Wales seat of Torfaen from 1987. He was made a life peer in 2015, taking the title Baron Murphy of Torfaen.
Photo: PA 

We asked how Owen Smith came to be selected.

Murphy’s reply was enigmatic:

“He came from BBC Wales, although I knew his father through Welsh Labour history circles.”

Owen Smith was a special adviser until 2005 when he left to join the controversial US pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer.

But his political connections were powerful enough for him to secure the Labour nomination for the 2006 by-election in Blaenau Gwent.

Normally this was a safe Labour seat.

But Peter Law, the dominant Labour politician in the area, had fallen out with the party — and won the 2005 general election as an independent.

His death led to the 2006 by-election — and many expected the seat to return to Labour.

But Labour remained deeply unpopular in the constituency and Owen Smith failed to turn the tide — he was convincingly beaten by an ally of Law’s.

It was another four years before another opportunity arose, this time in Pontypridd.

The sitting Labour MP, Kim Howells, is another friend of the Smith family.

Owen Smith was selected and this time was elected MP — although with a reduced majority.

But he remains an elusive character for many in Welsh Labour — a man who seems to have emerged out of the shadows.

One Labour MP, who didn’t want to be named, told Press Gang he was a deeply unimpressive character:

“I can’t believe the Parliamentary Labour Party have been taken in by him.”

Within six years of taking Pontypridd, Owen Smith is a candidate for the Leadership of the Labour Party …

♦♦♦

Notes
1. Press Gang editor Paddy French declares a personal interest in this story. In the 1980s he was the editor of Rebecca magazine which was in competition for a substantial Welsh Arts Council grant. One of the competitors was Arcade magazine and Dai Smith was one of its supporters. The council’s literature committee chose Rebecca but the full council overturned the decision — and gave the grant to Arcade.
2. The Rebecca investigation into nepotism and patronage at BBC Wales is explored in the articles The Son Of The Man From Uncle and In The Name Of The Father?
3. The cover block pic is by Gareth Fuller / PA.

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IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER?

June 18, 2014

rebecca_logo_04

WHEN RHODRI Talfan Davies takes his leave as Director of BBC Wales in the years ahead, will he once again follow in his father’s footsteps?

It’s become the practice of departing Directors to take up one of the best paid part-time jobs in Wales — a directorship in Glas Cymru.

Glas Cymru owns Welsh Water and claims to be a “not-for-profit” business with customers as its “sole” concern.

But a forthcoming Rebecca Television investigation will claim consumers have been cheated of £100 million.

It’s the board of directors who really benefit.

When Geraint Talfan Davies left BBC Wales in 1999, he helped set up Glas Cymru — and soaked up more than £450,000 in fees in his decade with the company.

He was still there when his friend Menna Richards, who succeeded him as BBC Wales Director, was appointed to the Glas Cymru board in November 2010.

She currently gets £57,000 a year for her part-time role.

Talfan Davies and Richards are part of the tight-knit group which controls Welsh broadcasting.

Rebecca Television continues its investigation of this media clique — and asks if the axing of a controversial series in the late 1990s was part of a strategy to secure the succession at BBC Wales …

♦♦♦

WHEN GERAINT Talfan Davies left the BBC at the end of 1999 he was only 56 years old.

“I have always been clear that I wanted to retire from the BBC while I still have the energy and the appetite to pursue new avenues,” he said at the time.

Within months he’d been recruited to become the Welsh face of a dramatic take-over of the Welsh water industry.

At the time, Welsh Water had swallowed South Wales Electricity and become Hyder plc.

GERAINT TALFAN DAVIES  A MEMBER of the powerful Talfan Davies clan, the former BBC Wales Controller became one of the highest paid non-executives in Welsh corporate history when he joined the board of Glas Cymru, the company that owns Welsh Water. He was later joined by Menna Richards, the friend who succeeded him at BBC Wales. It was his son, Rhodri, who took over BBC Wales after Menna Richards departed — a saga explored in the Rebecca Television article The Son Of The Man From Uncle.                                                                 Photo: Seren Books

THE MAN FROM UNCLE
A MEMBER of the powerful Talfan Davies clan, the former head of BBC Wales became one of the highest paid non-executives in Welsh corporate history when he joined the board of Glas Cymru, the company that owns Welsh Water. He was later joined by Menna Richards, the friend who succeeded him at BBC Wales. It was his son, Rhodri, who took over BBC Wales after Menna Richards departed — a saga explored in the Rebecca Television article The Son Of The Man From Uncle.     Photo: Seren Books

But the two privatised utilities made huge profits and in 1997 the new Labour government hit Hyder with a massive combined £282 million “windfall tax” on its excess electricity and water profits.

The water regulator Ofwat, stung by accusations that it had been too lenient on the sector, also waded in with what looked like draconian new price caps.

This “double whammy” left Hyder sinking under a wave of debt.

Its share price sank and predators closed in.

It came down to a battle between the Japanese investment bank Nomura and the US power conglomerate Western Power Distribution.

The Americans won.

But they only wanted the electricity business — and quickly agreed to sell Welsh Water to a new company called Glas Cymru.

Glas Cymru, a company limited by guarantee, agreed to take over Welsh Water’s massive debt burden.

It did so by borrowing the money from the bond market.

The idea was the brainchild of two senior executives who worked for Welsh Water — former merchant banker Nigel Annett and ex-Treasury official Chris Jones.

They brought in former Treasury Permanent Secretary Terry Burns to chair the outfit.

And Geraint Talfan Davies was recruited to become the Welsh face of the enterprise.

Glas Cymru has always presented itself as a people’s company — with no shareholders, it claims, “our only purpose is to deliver the best outcomes for our customers.”

It points to £150 million worth of “customer dividends” — £139 for every customer — paid out since 2001.

(However, a forthcoming Rebecca Television investigation will reveal that consumers should have done far better.

An article entitled The Great Welsh Water Robbery argues that consumers have been cheated of £100 million in the last four years alone.

The final tally could run into hundreds of millions of pounds.

See the note at the end of this article.)

While Welsh Water’s more than one million domestic customers have been short-changed, the directors have done exceedingly well.

By the time he resigned as a part-time non-executive director in March 2011, Geraint Talfan Davies was earning £54,000 a year.

In the ten years he was on the board, his total haul from the company was £452,500.

Unlike Geraint Talfan Davies, Menna Richards was appointed a non-executive director at Glas Cymru while she was still Director of BBC Wales.

She took up the Glas Cymru role in November 2010 — two weeks after she announced her intention to leave BBC Wales.

She didn’t leave the Corporation until February 2011.

Her appointment is understood to have caused concern at the BBC.

MISS PRINCIPALITY  Menna Richards has taken the two-step routine (BBC Wales to Glas Cymru) pioneered by her friend and mentor Geraint Talfan Davies and given it another twist. She's turned it into a conga by also becoming a non-executive director of the Principality Building Society — following in the footsteps of current Glas Cymru chief executive Chris Jones. The post adds another £45,000 a year to her annual bank balance and increases her clout as one the "great and the good" of Welsh public life.  Photo: PA

MISS PRINCIPALITY
MENNA RICHARDS has taken the two-step — BBC Wales to Glas Cymru — routine pioneered by her friend and mentor Geraint Talfan Davies and given it another twist. She’s turned it into a conga by also becoming a non-executive director of the Principality Building Society — following in the footsteps of Glas Cymru chief executive Chris Jones. The post adds another £45,000 a year to her annual bank balance and increases her clout as one of the “great and the good” of Welsh public life.
Photo: PA

In its accounts, Glas Cymru states that Menna Richards did not receive any fees until 1 March 2011.

This was after she had finally left BBC Wales.

She’s already one of the most trusted non-executive directors on the Glas Cymru board — for six months in 2013 she was the acting senior non-executive director at an annual rate of £67,500.

By March 2014 she had received total fees of £177,750.

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WE ASKED Glas Cymru to explain the high levels of fees it awards non-executive directors.

Compared to a company like Cardiff-based Admiral Insurance, a successful business operating in one of the most competitive markets in British capitalism, Glas Cymru’s fees appear excessive.

With a turnover of £2.2 billion, Admiral has to fight for every customer‚ unlike Welsh Water whose £717 million income in 2013 came almost entirely from captive customers paying fixed prices.

Back in 2001, a Glas Cymru press release was clear — Welsh Water “… a monopoly providing an essential public service, is a very low risk business.”

Admiral made a pre-tax profit of nearly £350 million in 2012 — but still managed to pay two of its non-executive directors less than Menna Richards.

It took three rounds of questions before Glas Cymru finally came up with a justification for the pay of non-executive directors:

“Regardless of our ‘not-for-profit’ model, we must attract the highest calibre of directors to ensure that the company continues to perform to the highest levels,” a spokesman said.

“Our business provides essential public services and so is heavily regulated by numerous independent bodies, which means we need a high quality board which can provide a credible commitment to good governance for our regulators and bond investors.”

It said that non-executive fees are “reviewed annually” with independent advice from outside consultants.

And it added that the “members” of Glas Cymru — the 59 people appointed to act as the owners of the company — “vote annually on directors’ remuneration.”

The need to attract the “highest calibre” people to run the board doesn’t seem to apply to the “members” who actually control the company.

They’re paid nothing.

♦♦♦

THERE’S ANOTHER UK business which is directly comparable to Glas Cymru — Scottish Water, owned by the Scottish Government.

Water was never privatised in Scotland.

Scottish Water, the result of the merger of three local authorities in 2002, is much bigger than Welsh Water.

Its revenue of £1.1 billion outstrips Glas Cymru’s £717 million.

So you might expect its non-executive directors to be paid more.

Not a bit of it.

Scottish Water’s non-executive salaries are decided by First Minister Alex Salmond and his cabinet.

The average basic fee for a non-executive director in 2013 was £22,000.

That’s less than half of the £57,000 Menna Richards currently receives at Glas Cymru.

And Scottish Water doesn’t seem to have any trouble finding “high calibre” people to take these jobs.

After Menna Richards took up the Glas Cymru post, the Western Mail newspaper published a letter from a Glynneath reader called Jack Kearns:

“She follows Geraint Talfan Davies who preceded her as controller of BBC Wales,” he wrote, “so could it be whoever replaces Menna Richards will be assured of a long and high-salary future with BBC Wales and then Welsh Water?”

RHODRI TALFAN DAVIES There is speculation that the current BBC Wales Director Rhodri Talfan Davies will follow in the footsteps of both his father and Menna Richards and join the board of Glas Cymru in the years to come. We asked him if this was on the cards — he did not reply. Photo: BBC Wales

THE SON OF THE MAM FROM UNCLE
THERE’S ALREADY speculation that the current BBC Wales Director, Rhodri Talfan Davies, will follow in the footsteps of both his father and Menna Richards and join the board of Glas Cymru in the years to come. We asked him if this was on the cards — he did not reply.
Photo: BBC Wales

Kearns’ letter was published before it was announced that Rhodri Talfan Davies would replace Menna Richards as BBC Wales Director.

We asked Rhodri Talfan Davies if he had any plans to follow his father onto the Glas Cymru board.

This was one of a raft of questions we put to the BBC Wales press office on June 2.

No answers were forthcoming.

We emailed Geraint Talfan Davies for a response.

We also asked Menna Richards to comment.

Neither replied by the time this article was posted.

♦♦♦

THE TALFAN Davies clan aren’t the only family to have prospered at the BBC.

Relatives of Menna Richards have also done well.

In the period she was Director of BBC Wales, her sister Ceri Wyn Richards won more than a million pounds worth of commissions from the broadcaster.

Ceri Wyn Richards is a former BBC Wales staffer who once held the post of Editor, Radio Cymru.

In the early 2000s she and her husband, producer Mark Jones, set up an independent company called Torpedo Limited.

For eight years the company waxed prosperous on the back of commissions from BBC Wales.

As a small company, Torpedo did not have to declare the salaries of its two directors in its annual accounts.

But its balance sheet was healthy — and the company, which was paid in advance by BBC Wales, always reported “cash in hand and at the bank” of between £100,000 and £260,000 throughout the decade.

For the first four years of her time as Director, the BBC did not declare Menna Richards’ interest in Torpedo or the amount of work the Corporation was awarding her sister’s company.

In 2005-06, however, the BBC’s annual report and accounts began listing the amount of work the company was being awarded.

The figures were surprisingly high:

— in 2005-06, Torpedo received £324,000 worth of work

— in 2006-07, the figure rose to £360,000

— in 2007-08, contracts dipped to £321,000

— in 2008-09, the amount declined to £147,000.

The reason the figure fell in that year was that there was a crisis at Torpedo at the end of 2008.

The marriage between Ceri Wyn Richards and Mark Jones hit the rocks — and the partnership that created Torpedo foundered.

In the four-year period 2005-9, the company earned £1,153,000 — making it one of the most successful Welsh broadcasting independents.

We asked BBC Wales for the figures for the period 2001 to 2004.

There was no response.

In December 2008 a new company, Parrog Limited, was registered at an address in Whitchurch, Cardiff.

This was the home of Menna Richards and her husband Patrick Hannan.

A widely respected BBC journalist, Hannan signed the documents which set up the company.

For the first six months of 2009, he was the sole director and holder of the company’s only share.

In June 2009, Ceri Wyn Richards also became a director of the company.

The following month, Patrick Hannan resigned.

(Diagnosed with cancer, he was to die in October 2009 at the age of 68).

In the summer of 2009, an anonymous letter was sent to national newspapers in London drawing attention to the links between Menna Richards and her sister’s companies.

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ON THE surface, the Parrog affair caused hardly any ripples at the BBC. Behind the scenes, however, there were reports of considerable unease in London about the Director’s close ties with the company. Some observers believe the issue may have played a part in Menna Richards’ ultimate decision to leave the Corporation in 2010…

It also pointed out that Menna Richards’ husband was a director  of Parrog and that the company’s registered office was their home.

In August 2009 Jenny Rathbone, a Labour Parliamentary candidate for one of the Cardiff constituencies, learnt of the allegations.

Rathbone, a former producer of the BBC 2 Money Programme and a Labour councillor in the London borough of Islington, wrote to BBC Trust chairman Sir Michael Lyons.

Four days later, he wrote back to say the matter was an “operational” issue — he’d passed her letter on to deputy Director-General Mark Byford.

The next day Rathbone received a reply from the BBC’s Chief Operating Officer, Caroline Thomson.

She wrote:

“I can reassure you that Menna Richards has declared all business relationships between the BBC and members of her family in line with … stringent conflict of interest policies.”

“I am satisfied that she has had no involvement in the management of either Torpedo Ltd or Parrog Ltd, and has no role in the commissioning of any independent production companies.

Thomson added that the “BBC will be responding to your letter more fully in due course.”

Rathbone — currently a Labour member of the National Assembly in Cardiff — doesn’t remember receiving a second letter.

The BBC’s accounts for the year 2009-2010 carried no declaration from Menna Richards — who served throughout the year — about the value of any commissions obtained by Parrog.

In November 2010 Menna Richards announced that she was stepping down as Director and eventually left in February 2011.

Again, the BBC accounts for 2010-2011 did not include a declaration of her connection with Parrog.

Parrog’s own accounts indicate that, in the four years between 2009 and 2013, the amount of work does not seem to have reached the levels Torpedo achieved.

The company’s cash balances ranged from £67,000 to £100,000.

We asked BBC Wales for details of commissions the company received from the Corporation.

Once again, the press office failed to provide a response.

♦♦♦

THE PROFESSIONAL relationship between Menna Richards and Geraint Talfan Davies began at HTV Wales in the 1980s.

After eight years at BBC Wales, Menna Richards moved to HTV Wales in 1983 to become a journalist and presenter on the Welsh language current affairs programme Y Byd Ar Bedwar.

At the time Geraint Talfan Davies was HTV Wales’ Assistant Controller of Programmes.

His uncle Sir Alun Talfan Davies was coming to the end of his term as chairman of HTV’s Welsh board.

Menna Richards’ managerial career did not begin until Geraint Talfan Davies had left HTV.

In 1987 Talfan Davies moved to Newcastle to take up the post of Director of Programmes at Tyne Tees TV.

By 1990, he was back in Cardiff 1990 as Director — at the time the title was Controller —  of BBC Wales.

A year later Menna Richards began to climb the managerial ladder at HTV Wales.

First she was appointed Controller of Factual and General programmes, then in 1993 she became Director of Programmes.

By the mid 1990s she was emerging as a powerful figure in Welsh broadcasting — and a potential successor to Geraint Talfan Davies as head of BBC Wales.

In 1996 there was a revealing internal argument at HTV Wales which suggests she may have begun positioning herself as a candidate for the top job at BBC Wales.

Bruce Kennedy, a former editor of the channel’s Wales This Week current affairs series, was in charge of commissioning programmes from the independent sector.

He decided to make a series about the scandal-torn Welsh Development Agency (WDA) to coincide with its 21st anniversary in 1997.

From 1988 to 1993, the Agency’s chairman had been the charismatic but controversial self-made businessman, Dr Gwyn Jones.

In the late 1980s Jones outflanked the traditional Welsh establishment by persuading Welsh Secretary Peter Walker to appoint him to head the Agency.

Within months, he increased the number of days he was working from two and a half to four days a week.

He became a favourite of Margaret Thatcher — when she made one of her few visits to Wales in 1989, she extolled Jones’ virtues:

“I just want to say what a marvellous chap they’ve got at the Welsh Development Agency.”

DR GWYN JONES WHEN THE self-proclaimed millionaire was appointed chairman of the Welsh Development Agency in 1989, he was in need of some hard cash. He persuaded the Agency to buy his Jaguar for £26,000 and later lied to Parliament about the reasons why it was a good deal for the quango. In the 2000s his career declined — he is now Director of Essex University Business School. Photo: Essex University

DR GWYN JONES
WHEN THE self-proclaimed millionaire was appointed chairman of the Welsh Development Agency in 1988, he was in need of some hard cash. He persuaded the Agency to buy his Jaguar for £26,000 and later lied to Parliament about the reasons why it was a good deal for the quango. In the 2000s his career declined — he’s now Director of Essex University’s Business School.
Photo: Essex University

By 1992, he had been appointed the BBC’s National Governor for Wales.

He also used the patronage of senior Tories as a springboard to more powerful posts.

One of his contacts was the merchant banker and freemason Sir Michael Richardson, a personal friend of Margaret Thatcher.

Vice-chairman of the powerful N M Rothschild merchant bank, Richardson secured Jones a series of profitable directorships.

In 1992 Jones also became a director of Tesco — and stayed until 1998.

But as he was beginning his rise through the ranks of corporate Britain, turmoil erupted at the WDA.

Jones’ abrasive style provoked conflict with senior staff — one was paid off with a controversial payoff.

He also made jaw-dropping appointments — one of them a conman who Jones hired as the agency’s marketing director without checking his CV.

The crook was later gaoled.

There were also scandals about unauthorised perks and Jones was accused of obtaining an Agency grant for one scheme and then using it for another.

In December 1992 the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) called in Jones and other officials.

Days before the hearing, Jones announced he would leave the Agency in 1993.

The PAC report was damning of the Agency and its political masters at the Welsh Office — it was:

“.. unacceptable that the Welsh Office took no action against anyone in the top echelons of the Agency who presided over a catalogue of serious and inexcusable breaches of expected standards …”

It was this back story which persuaded Bruce Kennedy that a series about the history of the Agency would be a worthwhile project.

He asked Paddy French, then an independent TV producer and currently the editor of Rebecca Television, to carry out the research.

At the time, French did not realise the series would itself become a pawn in a political intrigue …

♦♦♦

THE RESEARCH for the series began at the end of 1995.

French spent several weeks going through the history of the WDA.

Concerned that the series would be stale and academic, he felt it needed a dramatic revelation to bring it alive.

He decided that the most promising line of attack lay in the curious affair of Dr Jones’ Jaguar.

The WDA had authorised a dealer to buy the Jaguar off Jones in March 1989 for £26,000 — the market rate.

The Agency then signed a new lease with the dealer for the Jaguar to become the chairman’s car.

All costs were paid by the Agency.

Jones insisted the deal was a good one for the WDA.

When the Public Affairs Committee grilled him about it, in 1996, he made a remarkable claim.

He insisted that it was cheaper for the Agency to buy the car than to continue paying him mileage.

He told the Committee:

” … when it became clear how many days and how much travel I was doing — and that was working out something like 60,000 miles a year, which I have maintained for the period of my chairmanship — in a discussion it was put to me that it would be financially beneficial to the Agency if I went on to a different car scheme.”

Committee member Alan Williams, MP for Swansea West, was not persuaded:

“Really, it was an act of generosity on your part to the WDA rather than the other way around. Is that it?”

ALAN WILLIAMS THE MP didn't believe  Dr Gwyn Jones was telling the truth when the WDA chairman appeared before the Publis Accounts Committee in 1992. Photo: PA

ALAN WILLIAMS
THE LABOUR MP for Swansea West didn’t believe Dr Gwyn Jones was telling the truth when the WDA chairman appeared before the Public Accounts Committee in 1992.  Photo: PA

Jones replied:

“The arithmetic was such that it would be a lesser cost to the Agency than paying me for 60,000 miles per year at 34.4 pence a mile.”

French was also sceptical.

“Actually, Jones’ arithmetic completely undermined his own argument,” he said.

“He was claiming he travelled 60,000 miles a year on Agency business.”

“Given the quality of the road system in Wales, the average speed can’t have been more than 50 miles an hour.”

“Divide 60,000 by 50 miles an hour and you get 1,200 hours behind the wheel.”

“Assume a 7 hour day and Jones would have been on the road  for 171 days a year — at a time when he was only paid for two and a half days a week.”

“It was a commonly held view in Wales at the time,” noted French, “that this level of mileage was physically impossible.”

“I felt that Jones’ claim was a serious hostage to fortune.”

“If the Jaguar could be located, its records were likely to show that he had lied to Parliament — a very serious offence.”

♦♦♦

IT TOOK several months to track down the Jaguar.

It had been bought by a relative of BBC presenter Vincent Kane.

The service log showed that in June 1989 — three months after Jones sold it — the Jaguar had only 14,267 miles on the clock.

“The evidence was overwhelming — Jones had lied to Parliament,” said French.

“This was the dramatic revelation the HTV series needed to bring it bang up to date.”

In July 1996 filming started — until a dramatic call from Cardiff intervened.

“The film crew, Bruce Kennedy and I were having lunch in a pub in London when Menna Richards rang,” French remembers.

“Menna asked Bruce Kennedy what was going on and he told her that shooting had started on the series.”

“She told him that filming was to stop — he was to return to Cardiff immediately.”

Shortly afterwards, the new chairman of the WDA, David Rowe-Beddoe, asked to meet the team responsible for the series.

It took place in Rowe-Beddoe’s office at the WDA’s HQ in Cardiff and was attended by Kennedy, French and HTV’s head of news and current affairs, Elis Owen.

DAVID ROWE-BEDDOE ANOTHER BUSINESSMAN who supported the Tories, David Rowe-Bedoe — seen here at the official opening of the Wales Millennium Centre in 19xx — was opposed to HTV Wales broadcasting a series about the Welsh Development Agency

DAVID ROWE-BEDDOE
ANOTHER BUSINESSMAN who supported the Tories, David Rowe-Beddoe — seen here at the official opening of the Wales Millennium Centre — took over from Dr Gwyn Jones as WDA chairman. He was opposed to HTV Wales broadcasting a series about the troubled history of the Agency.                                                                                                         Photo: PA

Rowe-Beddoe tried to persuade them the series should not be made.

The three journalists insisted the programmes were in the public interest.

The next day Bruce Kennedy met with Menna Richards.

Richards said she wasn’t persuaded the series was editorially sound.

There was, she said, nothing new in it, it was boring and she even had her doubts about the Jaguar story.

In a memo written a week later, Kennedy said he was “surprised” and “unprepared” at her tone.

He added:

“I am concerned at the growing suggestion that in some way we (notably me) are trying to keep you ignorant of the true nature of the WDA programme.”

“There seems to be a suggestion that the research is not up to the standard required to substantiate some of the points we are making.”

“All I can say is that the research I’ve seen Paddy French conduct is second to none.”

“I think the research Elis and I have conducted must stand for you to judge.”

Five days after this memo was sent, Menna Richards axed the series.

No attempt was made to use the new material about the Jaguar in any other programme.

Bruce Kennedy has never believed that censorship was the reason for Menna Richards’ decision.

For him, it was simply a difference of editorial opinions.

He left HTV Wales shortly afterwards.

French, though, was not convinced that it was just a matter of editorial judgement.

“There are two reasons why I felt outside factors may have played a part,” he said.

“The first is that I believe that Menna Richards was building up a formidable CV as a candidate to take over as Controller of BBC Wales from Geraint Talfan Davies.”

“The only glaring gap in her CV was that senior BBC executives are expected to have had wider experience than just broadcasting.”

“Up to that point, Menna Richards’ career was entirely in broadcasting.”

“She needed a stint as a director of another, unrelated public body.”

“And to land such an appointment, she needed the support of the business establishment, including people like David Rowe-Beddoe.”

“A programme critical of the WDA was likely to antagonise that community.”

(The gap in her CV was later plugged when she was appointed a director of the Cardiff Bay Development Corporation, serving until the quango was wound up in 2000.)

“The second reason was that Gwyn Jones was still the BBC’s National Governor for Wales.”

“It would have been obvious to Menna Richards that the Corporation would prefer to avoid the embarrassment of a programme that exposed its National Governor for Wales as a man who had lied to Parliament.”

We asked Menna Richards to comment.

She didn’t reply.

But that was far from the end of the story.

Within months of the decision to axe the WDA series, Menna Richards abruptly reversed her decision — and cleared the decks for an HTV broadside against Dr Jones.

♦♦♦

IN THE autumn of 1996 it was widely assumed Dr Gwyn Jones would not seek another term as National Governor for Wales. 

His reputation had been damaged by the Public Accounts Committee and it was assumed he would move on to pastures new when his term ended in December.

However, Jones began to indicate that he thought differently.

The position of National Governor for Wales gave him a seat on the BBC’s UK Board of Governors and was an immensely influential platform.

Word began to circulate in Cardiff that he was canvassing for a second term.

“This really put the cat among the pigeons,” recalls French.

“A second term for Jones would have been a serious blow to Menna Richards’ chances of becoming BBC Wales Controller.”

“HTV had made several highly critical programmes about his chairmanship of the WDA and there was a danger he would not support Menna Richards.”

Inside BBC Wales Jones was not popular among many senior executives and journalists.

In one Broadcasting Council for Wales meeting he had openly attacked the Corporation’s own Week In Week Out series over a programme critical of a WDA land deal.

Many felt this was an attempt to intimidate programme-makers.

Behind the scenes, a secret campaign began to de-rail his campaign.

Part of this campaign was the resurrection of the Jaguar story.

“Out of the blue, HTV Wales suddenly decided that it was time to prepare a profile of the man now seeking a second term at BBC Wales,” said Paddy French.

“It was decided the channel’s current affairs strand, Wales This Week, would rush out a programme — the core of which was the allegation that Jones lied to Parliament over the Jaguar affair.”

“An issue which Menna Richards decided wasn’t newsworthy back in July, was now a matter of vital public interest,” added French.

MENNA RICHARDS WITHIN MONTHS of deciding that a series about the WDA should be axed, Menna Richards authorised an emergency Wales This Week programme about the controversial career of Dr Gwyn Jones' time at the Agency. At its heart, his lies to Parliament about the Jaguar ...  Photo: PA

MENNA RICHARDS, OBE
WITHIN MONTHS of deciding that a series about the WDA should be axed, Menna Richards authorised an emergency Wales This Week programme about the controversial career of Dr Gwyn Jones’ time at the Agency. At its heart, his lies to Parliament about the controversial sale of his Jaguar …
Photo: PA

Menna Richards kept a close eye on the programme — she asked to see a rough version several days before screening.

Jones heard about the programme and wrote to HTV Group chairman, Louis Sherwood, in early December.

Jones pointed out that the last time Wales This Week examined his stewardship of the Agency, he’d had to instruct the libel lawyer Peter Carter Ruck.

The programme went ahead.

The schedule was so tight that the commentary wasn’t laid down until minutes before transmission.

“It was a fraught session,” recalls French, who’d been brought in to help with the production.

“Elis Owen, head of news and current affairs, was in charge — and HTV had a libel barrister on hand to make sure the script was safe.”

The programme was broadcast two weeks before Christmas 1996.

“By then the Welsh establishment had made sure the corridors of power in London were informed about what was coming,” said Paddy French.

“Dr Gwyn Jones — who could also see which way the wind was blowing — decided not to seek a second term as Governor.”

♦♦♦

THE REST is history.

Geraint Talfan Davies left BBC Wales at the end of 1999.

With a Labour government in power, and the Tory grip on the Welsh establishment broken, Menna Richards slipped effortlessly into his shoes…

♦♦♦

NOTE

1 The Rebecca Television investigation into Glas Cymru, the company that owns Welsh Water, was published as  The Great Welsh Water Robbery. It argues customers have seen few benefits while some of the executives who actually control the business have become millionaires …

♦♦♦

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THE SON OF THE MAN FROM UNCLE

October 14, 2013

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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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