Anthony William "Tony" Hall, Baron Hall of Birkenhead, CBE (born
3 March 1951) is the Director-General of the BBC.
He took up the post of Director-General on 2 April 2013.
Previously he was Chief Executive of the Royal Opera House in
Covent Garden, London from 2001 until March 2013, and Director
of News at the BBC between 1993 and 2001.
Hall was created a Life Peer on 22 March 2010 and took his seat
in the House of Lords as a crossbench member.
On 25 March 2015, Hall announced his decision not to renew Top
Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson's BBC contract after an internal
investigation found that Clarkson had assaulted the programme's
producer. Hall and his wife received death threats which the BBC
decided were 'credible', and they were subsequently guarded by
police. On 28 March, Scotland Yard confirmed that officers were
investigating the threats.
Hall has written:
King Coal: Miners, Coal and Britain's Industrial Future (Penguin
Nuclear Politics: The History of Nuclear Power in Britain
(Penguin Books, 1986).
First Tony Hall saved the Royal Opera House. Now he's charged
with rescuing the Cultural Olympiad. Charlotte Higgins spends a
day with the most powerful man in the arts
'We are not grant
junkies' … Tony Hall. Photograph: Graeme Robertson
Monday 30 November 2009 21.30 GMT
ony Hall, chief executive of the Royal Opera House, is an
unlikely impresario. There's nothing flash about this softly
spoken, modestly besuited man, someone who might be your
accountant or GP. As we talk in his office (leather sofas,
executive bathroom, a PA who addresses him as "sir", presumably
with gentle irony), he betrays irritation only once – when
talking about Michael Portillo, whom he has heard is denouncing
arts organisations as parasitical "grant junkies".
"The notion that we are grant junkies is just wrong. Absolutely
wrong. It's just wrong," he says. "What I see in the arts is
creative, cultural entrepreneurs who, yes, take a pound from the
public purse. But for every pound, we make three – it's the
parable of the talents. I have to say I think the funding system
in this country works better than any other system I have seen
around the world." He lowers his voice, sounding sad. "As is
typical with the British, we never quite appreciate what we've
Hall, 58, is about to start his 10th year running Covent Garden,
where, on a salary of £250,000, he is the highest paid
administrator in the British subsidised arts – and certainly
among the most powerful. Aside from the day job, he is now
chairing the Cultural Olympiad, and has a seat on the board of
the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (Locog).
Hall's job there is to bring a discredited process back from the
brink. He says he will appoint a director of the Cultural
Olympiad by Christmas (the job has stood empty for over a year),
announce the music strand early in 2010, and, with his newly
appointed board, either develop or ditch the projects envisaged
by Southbank artistic director Jude Kelly, who was previously in
charge. Hall's current concern is the legacy to the five
"Olympic" boroughs in east London: Greenwich, Hackney, Newham,
Tower Hamlets, Waltham Forest. "We've got to involve the whole
of the UK, but in 2013 if those five boroughs don't feel there
has been a genuine change in arts there, then we won't have done
our job properly."
He has ambitious plans for the Opera House, too. Not only does
Hall want to create an incarnation of Covent Garden in
Manchester, but he is also drawing on his old BBC career (he was
chief executive of BBC news) to turn the ROH into, in his words,
"a mini-broadcaster", filming and recording its shows for its
own CD and DVD label, as well as for TV and the web. "There will
come a point," he says, "when what we can do is equivalent to a
BBC4 or whatever, and the audience will be global." There's also
a new venture called Royal Opera House Enterprises, a kind of
BBC Worldwide: the idea is to put every potential money-making
opportunity under one umbrella, whether the shop, restaurant,
recordings or other merchandise; in business-speak, it's all
about exploiting the brand. "We won't be buying Lonely Planet,"
says Hall, referring to BBC Worldwide's most controversial
acquisition. "You've gotto be careful with anything commercial
that it is adding to what you have. But I hope what people see
is that we are helping ourselves, and we are not grant junkies."
It is hard to overestimate just how much
things have changed at Covent Garden. A decade ago, the House
was enduring a damaging period of closure and teetered on the
brink of ruin: the entire board
famously resigned, and a procession of short-staying chief
executives trooped in and, defeated, trooped out. Meanwhile, the
then chairman, Colin Southgate, was making unhelpful remarks
about how he disliked patrons who wore "smelly trainers".
These days, by contrast, Hall enthuses about the possibility of
some kind of ROH Wii game, about opera and ballet video on
demand, and about the potential of 3D for its cinema broadcasts.
In late 2000, when Hall's name was first mentioned as a possible
new Covent Garden chief, he was seen as a real outsider. "I
felt, perhaps with some sort of arrogance, that running a crazy
broadcasting operation [at the BBC] was very similar to working
in a very creative theatrical, musical, balletic organisation,"
he says. But the problem then was that the ROH had no
credibility, despite the stabilising influence of his immediate
predecessor, American Michael Kaiser. "The place lacked public
legitimacy," says Hall. "Despite a lot of good work and talented
people, you had this penumbra, this dark shadow of the closure
period and the sense of a large amount of public money that had
gone to something that was essentially for a smaller number of
well-off people. That had to be tackled."
As a first step, the finances were sorted out: the ROH has
broken even or registered a small surplus every year since. And
then there was the slow work of trying to open up the House, to
prove that it wasn't just for the elite. That's a job that is
far from done. However hard the ROH works in its community
programmes in Thurrock, Essex (where it delivers cultural
education to 120 schools, and is developing a national skills
academy to teach technical and backstage jobs), however many
times Hall points out that half his tickets are £50 (and go
right down to £4 for standing seats), many people still believe
that Covent Garden, which this year received £28m from the
state, is an extravagant waste of money.
At war with New York's Met
Nobody could claim that Hall does not set about the task of
challenging that view with missionary zeal. He points to schemes
such as two season-openers exclusively made available to Sun
readers; the efforts to get ROH's work out on big screens and on
to the web; the 4,000 first-time visitors from the Thurrock
area; and even the 100 people who came through the doors for the
first time after joining the Royal Opera House's 17,000-strong
Facebook group. The average night there still feels pretty
glitzy and exclusive; but Hall is, I think, gradually chipping
away at the old feeling of entrenched privilege.
Before I interviewed Hall, I spent a morning shadowing him. I
got the feeling his was a happy ship, though you never know if
you are being treated like one of those credulous visitors to a
carefully staged version of Stalinist Russia. First came a
meeting between senior management and Opus Arte, the CD label
which the Royal Opera bought in 2007, where a new Opus Arte
website was discussed. When it goes live in January, the site
aims to become a kind of Amazon for classical music. Covent
Garden's music director, Antonio Pappano, is making a BBC TV
series for broadcast early next summer called Opera Italia
("I've banged on about him for ages; he's a natural for TV,"
says Hall); the Opera House wants to cash in with a Pappano
Traviata DVD. Various wrangles about rights were mentioned: this
is the most significant potential impediment to Covent Garden's
filming or recording its own work, especially when dealing with
an artist's estate, or a singer on an exclusive record deal – or
an artist who is simply bloodyminded. I was also intrigued to
hear of competition with the Metropolitan Opera in New York over
exclusivity deals signed for opera screenings with cinema
chains: Hall suggested setting up a meeting with Met chief Peter
Gelb to smooth things over.
Later, there was a meeting with the director of development. She
ran through the figures (above target) and talked about a
particular couple whom the House is courting as patrons. A
meeting had been delayed, and lunch next spring to admire the
daffodils in their garden had been mooted. But Hall thought that
was too late. "Snowdrops," he said. "Tell them I'll come and see
the snowdrops." There was another mention of the Met, this time
in relation to "guerrilla warfare" over a potentially important
But the most revealing part of our morning came when we stood at
the back of the Grand Tier for half an hour of the general
rehearsal for Tchaikovsky's The Tsarina's Slippers. Hall
completely disappeared into the picture-book, Christmassy
production and the lush score, his face a study in rapture. I
asked whether he often nipped into rehearsals, or whether it was
just a treat laid on for the visiting interviewer. "Oh yes, of
course," he says. "It keeps you sane. It really, really does."
Metallica - /Fade To Black/ Live Nimes 2009
Emma Hewitt - "State That I'm
I took a ride
Fallen in the state that I'm in
Away from the lights
An ending before so we can begin now...
And it's all I see
This scene's burnt out
So meet me tonight
We'll leave behind all that we've been
Don't let it slide further away
With our eyes closed, in circles again
When I'm waiting and hoping for you to say that we'll go...
And then we'll ride out
A silent escape that I'm craving
I figured out, for all our mistakes we could win...
(It's all I see...
These dreams call out
It's all I need
And I need this now...)
I took a ride
Driven by the state that I'm in...
Black - Metallica
Life it seems to fade away
Drifting further everyday
Getting lost within myself
Nothing matters no one else
I have lost the will to live
Simply nothing more to give
There is nothing more for me
Need the end to set me free
Things not what they used to be
Missing one inside of me
Deathly loss this can't be real
Cannot stand this hell I feel
Emptiness is filling me
To the point of agony
Growing darkness taking dawn
I was me but now, he's gone
No one but me can save myself, but its too late
Now I can't think, think why I should even try
Yesterday seems as though it never existed
Death greets me warm, now I will just say goodbye