Chairmen of the BBC

The figures who have chaired the BBC Board of Governors, the BBC Trust and the BBC Board since 1922.

Image: The BBC Chairman's Room at Broadcasting House in 1936

Lord Gainford

Chairman of the British Broadcasting Company 1922-1927

Lord Gainford of Headlam, Joseph Albert Pease, (1860-1943) worked in the family coal and iron business before entering Parliament as a Liberal. He served in Lloyd George’s Government as President of the Board of Education and as Postmaster-General. In 1922 he was appointed as the BBC's first Chairman, when it was the British Broadcasting Company Ltd. After the British Broadcasting Corporation was formed in 1927 he continued as Vice-Chairman, and then left for the Federation of British Industries.

Lord Gainford.

Earl of Clarendon

Chairman 1927-30

George Herbert Hyde Villiers, Sixth Earl of Clarendon, (1877-1955) was the first chairman of British Broadcasting Corporation. His political career included serving as chief Conservative whip in Lords. Named 'Mussolini' by some newspapers, he clashed with John Reith (who referred to him as 'Silly Bertie' in his diaries). Each felt their position to be the senior. He left BBC to become Governor-General of South Africa.

The Earl of Clarendon wearing a military uniform. He has a bald head.

Rt Hon J H Whitley

Chairman 1930-1935

John Henry Whitley (1866-1935) entered the family cotton business, became an MP and was later Speaker of the House of Commons. John Reith liked him and together they established the differing rights and duties of the Chairman and Board of Governors (later known as the Whitley Document). He felt the BBC should appear unified to the outside world and never issued separate statements on behalf of the Board of Governors. He died in office.

J H Whitley at a microphone wearing full black tie evening dress.

Viscount Bridgeman

Chairman 1935

Lord Bridgeman of Leigh, 1st Viscount, William Clive Bridgeman, (1864-1935) was a career Conservative politician who was a BBC Governor from 1935. He died the year he was appointed.

Sepia toned image of 1st Viscount Bridgeman. He has a large walrus moustache.

RC Norman

Chairman 1935-1939

Ronald Collet Norman (1873-1963) worked in local politics, including the London County Council, between 1907 and 1922. He was brother to the Bank of England’s Governor. He was thought to be an intelligent and knowledgeable Chairman and had a harmonious relationship with John Reith. When Reith resigned in 1938, Norman tactfully refused him a place on the Board of Governors and appointed his successor, FW Ogilvie. He went on to serve on many cultural organisations, notably the National Trust.

Black and white portrait of RC Norman. He has a neat trimmed moustache.

Sir Allan Powell

Chairman 1939-1946

Sir George Allan Powell (1876-1948) was a lawyer who held many public offices. He admitted he knew nothing about radio but was well-connected and experienced in chairing boards and committees. He defended the BBC’s independence during World War 2 while ensuring the Corporation supported the war effort. Between 1939 and 1941 the Board of Governors was reduced to himself and the Vice-Chair. Subsequently, he sacked Ogilvie and appointed his wartime successors: Cecil Graves and RW Foot and later William Haley.

Sir Allan Powell seen in side profile. He looks concerned.

Lord Inman

Chairman 1947

Lord Inman of Knaresborough, Philip Albert Inman, (1892-1979) was connected to the medical profession and the Church and was director of various industrial firms. A member of the Labour Party, he resigned after 4 months to become Lord Privy Seal in the new Labour Government.

Lord Inman at a BBC microphone

Lord Simon of Wythenshawe

Chairman 1947-1952

Lord Simon of Wythenshawe, Sir Ernest Emil Darwin Simon (1879-1960) became a Liberal MP in 1923 after working in his family engineering business. He joined the Labour Party in 1946 and was a founder of New Statesman magazine. In 1947, the Labour Government gave him a peerage and appointed him BBC Chairman.

He agreed with the Beveridge Committee recommendation that the Chairman and Governors should have more executive powers. He was the first Chairman to spend several days a week in Broadcasting House. A respected authority on post-war Britain's rebuilding, he always kept close connections with Manchester and his family business. He chaired Manchester City Council until 1957.

Lord Simon of Wythenshawe standing by a curtain

Sir Alexander Cadogan

Chairman 1952-1957

Rt Hon. Sir Alexander George Montagu Cadogan, (1884-1968) had been a career diplomat. He had a close and easy relationship with Ian Jacob. He exercised his regulatory powers with care and established relations with the new Independent Television Authority. He was a director of the Suez canal company and a friend of the Prime Minister Anthony Eden. However, he ultimately defended the BBC over impartial reporting of the crisis. He did not hold public office after retiring in 1957.

Portrait photograph of Sir Alexander Cadogan

Sir Arthur fforde

Chairman 1957-1964

Sir Arthur Frederic Brownlow fforde (1900-1985) was a solicitor by profession. He became a civil servant in the Ministry of Supply where he helped establish under law the basis of Unit Trusts. Despite never being a teacher, he became Head Master of his old school Rugby.

An erudite Chairman, he was gentle and unobtrusive. He was very different to his later Director-General Hugh Greene but was supportive. He retired on health grounds and went onto hold various city directorships. Vice-Chairman Sir James Duff (1898-1970) acted as temporary Chairman, having deputised for him on many occasions during his frequent ill-health.

Portrait photograph of Sir Arthur fforde

Lord Normanbrook

Chairman 1964-1967

Lord Normanbrook of Chelsea, Norman Craven Brook, (1902-1967) was Grammar-school educated and became a civil servant in the Home Office, Cabinet Office and Treasury. In 1963 he was given a peerage and became BBC Chairman the following year.

He cared about the role of Chairman and wrote and spoke about it in public. He was described as unflappable and had a friendly relationship with Hugh Greene. His death in office was much regretted. Vice-Chairman Robert Lusty (later Sir Robert, 1909-1991) took over until Lord Hill became Chairman.

Lord Normanbrook stands by a painting

Lord Hill

Chairman 1967-1972

Lord Hill of Luton, Charles Hill, (1904-1989) was a medical doctor and became MP for Luton (switching from Labour to Conservative). He held many ministerial posts in the Commons and Lords, including Postmaster-General, when he conflicted with the BBC over reporting of the Suez crisis. As Chairman of the Independent Television Authority he was often hostile to the BBC.

His appointment as BBC Chairman surprised the Governors and several resigned. Prime Minister Harold Wilson encouraged him to be active in editorial decisions. He had a difficult relationship with Hugh Greene and often communicated through the BBC Secretary Kenneth Lamb. Greene later described him as a "vulgarian". He had a quieter relationship with Charles Curran. He retired in 1972 and died in 1989.

Portrait photograph of Lord Hill

Sir Michael Swann

Chairman 1973-1980

Lord Swann of Coln St Denys, Sir Michael Meredith Swann (1920-1990) was a scientist and one of the most popular BBC Chairmen. He was appointed by Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath, who admired his strong leadership during student protests at Edinburgh University. By contrast with Lord Hill, he avoided programme-making decisions but he sometimes criticised BBC administration.

He was gentle in manner, discreet and popular with both Ian Trethowan and Charles Curran. He steered the BBC through the Annan Committee, Licence Fee negotiations and various political conflicts, especially about Northern Ireland. He returned to academia in 1980 and became a champion of educational and scientific issues in the House of Lords.

Photograph of Michael Swann

George Howard

Chairman 1980-1983

A long-serving Governor, Lord Howard of Henderskelfe, George Howard, (1920-1984) was a surprise choice as Chairman. He was nicknamed "Gorgeous George" because he often dressed in caftans. He owned Castle Howard and chaired the County Landowners’ Association but said he would have given up his castle to be BBC Chairman. He defended the BBC's impartiality and public service status, for example during the Falklands war.

Ian Trethowan liked him and described him as supportive with an astonishingly wide-range of interests and knowledge. These went from art to engineering, valuable when programme content and new technology were crucial issues. He retired due to ill-health.

Photograph of George Howard

Stuart Young

Chairman 1983-1986

Brother of Cabinet minister Lord Young, Stuart Young (1934-1986) was an accountant who founded his own firm. He later became director of many companies, including Tesco.

When he became a Governor in 1981 he believed the BBC should be advertiser-funded, but changed his view, and successfully led the BBC argument for licence funding during the Peacock Committee. But relations between the Governors and management collapsed when Governors watched current affairs programme Real Lives before it was transmitted and wanted to change it. The documentary Maggie’s Militant Tendency caused another serious rift between the BBC and Government.

During both of these crises Young was ill, and he died in office. Vice-Chairman Lord Barnett (1923-) became acting chairman until the appointment of Marmaduke Hussey.

Stuart Young photographed in the street outside Broadcasting House

Marmaduke Hussey

Chairman 1986-1996

Lord Hussey of North Bradley, Marmaduke Hussey (1923-2006) was the only Chairman to sit for two full terms. He was severely wounded during World War 2 and his leg was amputated as a prisoner-of-war. On his return he had a long career with Associated Newspapers but left to join Times Newspapers. When they introduced electronic typesetting he gave an ultimatum to the print unions which closed the newspapers for a year.

He was connected to the Conservative Government (his brother-in-law William Waldegrave was a Cabinet Minister) but was refused a Knighthood in 1990. He admitted he knew nothing about broadcasting when he became Chairman. He has the distinction of having dismissed two Director-Generals - Alasdair Milne and Michael Checkland - and later fell out with John Birt over his management style.

Relations deteriorated further when Hussey (whose wife was a Lady-in-Waiting to the Queen) was not told in advance about Panorama's controversial interview with Diana, Princess of Wales in 1995.

Image of Marmaduke Hussey

Christopher Bland

Chairman 1996-2001

Sir Francis Christopher Buchan Bland, (1938-2017) competed in the 1960 Rome Olympics for the Irish Fencing Team. He left his Northern Ireland Army career to chair the Bow Group, then served on the board of many different companies including IBA and LWT.

This gave him regulatory, broadcasting and commercial experience which helped his appointment as BBC Chairman in 1996. He was connected with the Conservative Party but had disagreements with both the Conservatives (over the appointment of Labour Party donor Greg Dyke as Director-General) and Labour (over the rescheduling of the Nine O'Clock News).

He resigned in 2001 to become Chairman of BT. He has worked extensively with the NHS and was knighted in 1993.

Photograph of Christopher Bland

Gavyn Davies 

Chairman 2001-2004

An economist, Gavyn Davies OBE (1950-) advised the Labour Government Policy Unit in the 1970s. He worked in the City, notably for Goldman Sachs, as a journalist and part-time academic before chairing the 1999 enquiry into BBC funding. He joined the Board of Governors as Vice-Chairman in 2001 and took over when Christopher Bland left. He resigned as Chairman after the Hutton Report.

Portrait photograph of Gavyn Davies

Michael Grade

Chairman 2004-2006

Lord Grade of Yarmouth, Michael Ian Grade CBE, (1943-) began his career at the Daily Mirror in 1960, then entered his family theatrical agency, becoming joint Director in 1966. In 1973 he joined London Weekend Television as Head of Entertainment and Director of Programmes, then moved to the USA to become President of Embassy Television in 1981. He returned to the UK in 1984 to become Controller of BBC1, later becoming Director of Programmes, Television.

In 1988 he became Chief Executive of Channel 4 where he spent nine years. Between 1997 and 1999 he was Chief Executive then Executive Chairman at First Leisure Corporation. Subsequently he held executive roles at Pinewood and Shepperton Studios, Hemscott plc and the Camelot Group, operators of the National Lottery. His non-executive interests include Scottish Media Group, the National Film and Television School and Charlton Athletic Football Club.

Photograph of Michael Grade speaking at an event

Michael Lyons

Chairman 2007-2011

Sir Michael Lyons (1950-) is Chairman of the English Cities Fund, a former Deputy Chairman and Acting Chairman of the Audit Commission (2003–2006) and was Professor of Public Policy at Birmingham University (2001–2006). He was knighted in 2000 for services to local government after serving as Chief Executive of three major local authorities: Birmingham, Nottinghamshire and Wolverhampton.

Other roles have included Governor of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Chairman of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, non-executive director of Central Television Ltd and Chairman of the Regional Advisory Council for ITV. His early career was as an economist working in the public sector, following a period lecturing economics at Wallbrook College London and the University of Nottingham.

Photograph of Michael Lyons at an event

Christopher Patten

Chairman 2011-2014

Lord Patten of Barnes (1944-) had an extensive political career, as MP from 1979 to 1992, then holding various ministerial roles before becoming Secretary of State for the Environment in 1989 and Chairman of the Conservative Party in 1990, orchestrating the Conservatives' electoral victory in 1992.

Lord Patten was appointed Governor of Hong Kong (1992-97), overseeing the return of Hong Kong to China. He then became one of the UK's two European Commissioners from 1999 to 2004; on leaving office in Brussels, he was made a Life Peer and took his seat in the House of Lords in January 2005. In addition to political positions, Lord Patten has been Chancellor of Oxford University since 2003.

Portrait photograph of Lord Patten

Rona Fairhead

Chairman 2014-2017

Rona Fairhead, Baroness Fairhead CBE (1961–) has held a variety of senior positions in financial media and global businesses. She was Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Financial Times Group from 2006-2013, having previously been Group Finance Director of its parent company, Pearson plc. Prior to joining Pearson, she had senior executive roles at Bombardier Inc and ICI plc.

Rona is currently on the Board of HSBC Holdings plc and PepsiCo Inc and is Non-Executive Chairman of HSBC Northern America Holdings Inc. She is also a UK Trade & Investment Business Ambassador, and in 2012 was awarded a CBE for services to industry.

Portrait photograph of Rona Fairhead

David Clementi

Chairman 2017 - 2021

Sir David Clementi (1949-) was Chairman of Virgin Money (2011-2015), Chairman of Prudential plc. (2002-2008), and Deputy Governor of the Bank of England (1997-2002) where, in addition to his membership of the Monetary Policy Committee, he was responsible for the day-to-day management of the Bank.

David’s experience of governance issues covers both commercial and not-for-profit organisations. He served on the Board of the Financial Reporting Council, responsible for the Combined Code of Corporate Governance, and also chaired the Audit Committee of Rio Tinto, and acted as Senior Independent Director and Chairman of the Finance and Audit Committee at the Royal Opera House.

From 2003 to 2004, David carried out a review for the Ministry of Justice of the regulatory framework for legal services in England and Wales. In 2015 he was asked by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media & Sport to review the governance and regulatory arrangements for the BBC, reporting in March 2016. He was knighted in 2004.

Portrait photo of Sir David Clementi

Richard Sharp

Chairman 2021 -

Richard has had a 40-year career in finance working with a number of financial institutions. Most notably he worked at JP Morgan and was for 23 years a partner at Goldman Sachs. Subsequently, Richard served for two terms on the Bank of England’s Financial Policy Committee, charged with protecting the UK’s financial stability. Richard has also served on the boards of public and private companies in the UK, Germany, Denmark and the United States.

Throughout his career Richard has supported and held governance roles in a number of non-profit organisations including, amongst others, the Royal Academy of Arts, The Royal Marsden, The Institute of Cancer Research, International Rescue, and Uprising.

Photo of Richard Sharp

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