UK

BBC Under Fire For Spending Public Money On 'Vanity Portrait' Of Greg Dyke

06/02/2014 10:15 GMT | Updated 06/02/2014 11:00 GMT

The BBC has been attacked for spending thousands of pounds of public money on "vanity" paintings of their ex-director generals.

The corporation admitted, following a Freedom of Information Request from the Huffington Post UK, that it spent £15,000 on a portrait of Greg Dyke, who served as director-general from 2000 to 2004, which it now keeps as part of its own art collection.

Other director generals immortalised in oils include Dyke's predecessor John Birt, and all those who served as director general before him over the last 50 years including Sir Charles Curran and Sir Michael Checkland.

The furore over the BBC's "vanity" portraits echoes the recent controversy after it emerged that over £250,000 was spent commissioning paintings of Members of Parliament.

Dyke's £15,000 BBC portrait is more expensive than many Parliamentary portraits, such as Labour MP Diane Abbott's (£11,750), Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith's (£10,000) and former Tory chancellor Ken Clarke (£8,000).

The corporation claimed that it had "no plans" to commission a portrait for George Entwistle, who resigned in 2012 after just 54 days in the job amid the Jimmy Savile scandal, but made clear that "there is a broad tradition of commissioning such portraits at the end of each Director General’s time in office."

Only four people, William Haley, Cecil Graves, Frederick Oglivie and Cecil Graves missed out on their own portraits due to "reasons of timing or context".

Tory MP Rob Wilson told HuffPostUK: “There may be a tradition in the past of commissioning portraits of Director-Generals, but I think that’s an anachronism in this day and age. It smacks of an elitist, almost imperial culture at the top of the BBC that glorifies itself and its leadership rather than focussing on the people it serves.

“The Greg Dyke portrait cost £15,000. That is the equivalent of 100 people’s annual licence fee payments – money that people were forced to pay, and which was supposed to be used to pay for programmes.

gregdyke Greg Dyke's £15,000 portrait, painted by John Keane in 2004

Wilson went on: "Given what we have learned about waste at the BBC over the last year, I think the BBC would have a hard time justifying this expenditure on portraits of its own people that few members of the public will ever see.

“For the modern Director Generals, a good quality photographic portrait could do the job for a much lower cost.”

Jonathan Isaby, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "This is a ridiculous amount of money to spend on a portrait and yet another example of money being wasted on vanity items.

"It is particularly inappropriate for the BBC to commission portraits when so many of its past senior officials are embroiled in all sorts of scandals, bringing the institution into disrepute. BBC bosses should focus on delivering savings rather than squandering cash immortalising Director Generals on canvass."

Dyke was forced to resign in 2004 amid a row sparked by a BBC reporter claiming that the intelligence dossier on Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction, was "sexed up" by Blair's administration to strengthen the case for the invasion of Iraq.

A BBC spokesperson said: “We have a long standing tradition of commissioning portraits, similar to many organisations such as large corporations or the Houses of Parliament. These works of art form part of the BBC archive which is an important record of the history of the world’s oldest public service broadcasters.”

Greg Dyke's BBC portrait is accompanied by the description: "Greg Dyke's tenure as Director General was cut short following the row with the government over a 'Today' programme report questioning the government's case for going to war in Iraq.

"In his time he launched the Freeview proposition, hastening the nation's transition from analogue to digital, and he injected a fresh style of management that engaged staff as no Director General had done before him."