John Sessions: Late Spitting Image star’s fear BBC was ‘completely out of hand’

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The legendary Spitting Image star’s death at the age of 67 was confirmed today. His agent revealed that he had “died at his home in South London” after he suffered a heart attack. Sessions starred in a number of shows including Have I Got News For You, Whose Line is it Anyway and QI. The comedian was also a vocal supporter of the BBC but feared for its future and called for change to its “management culture”. 

Sessions felt that the corporation was “run like a private company” in a statement during a press briefing for the 2015 drama We’re Doomed! The Dad’s Army Story.

He claimed there was immense pressure during filming as they had been forced to shoot the TV series in two weeks instead of four.

The actor believed the “tight schedule” was due to money being spent building new offices – including in Salford – a decision he wished “executives would stop”.

In a 2013 report by the BBC, the buildings, relocation and running costs up until 2030 were estimated to run up to £942million. 

Sessions, who was against the move, fumed: “It makes me very cross because we have to try to do our job under much more pressure than we should have to deal with.

“The management culture at the BBC has become so pervasive and so money-monopolising that we are all doing these things on ridiculous schedules.”

Sessions told reporters that he didn’t “want to sound like some whinging old luvvie” but he felt the corporation was being treated like a Public Limited Company (PLC) – rather than a service for the public. 

He felt the sooner they stopped building elsewhere “the better it will be and more chance it will have of surviving”.

Despite his claims, he still held out hope for the corporation because “great things” were still being made there and added: “The technical quality of things is beyond belief.”

At the time, a spokesperson told BBC News that they had “cut senior manager numbers and costs by a third” to save £150million from “the total bill”.

They claimed that BBC North, their Salford Offices, had allowed them to “get closer” to their audience and made a “huge impact economically and culturally”. 

The spokesperson added that the relocation was “done on time and under budget”, which made it one of the “most efficient centres” and delivered “around £168million [in] cumulative savings”.

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Similarly actress Jennifer Saunders echoed Sessions’ thoughts and stated that the corporation had “become top-heavy in an ugly way”.

She told The Guardian in 2013: “They went corporate, instead of being what they should be, which is a national resource… They just became a corporate, executive-run place for idiots.”

The BBC’s director general during those years was Lord Tony Hall, who was succeeded by Tim Davie in September. 

When he stepped down, he explained that difficult decisions had been made during his tenure and rebuked claims that there was a “time bomb placed under” the corporation.

He told BBC Radio 4’s The Media Show podcast in August that he was “very, very confident” that a “corner had been turned” thanks to renegotiation of the Royal Charter agreement which expires in 2027.

Lord Hall also revealed that the BBC will reclaim all its content back from streaming giants like Netflix to make more money – shows like Peaky Blinders and Line of Duty.

He felt the coronavirus pandemic had shown the public the importance of the corporation due to the “extraordinary education service” and journalism.

Lord Hall also discussed the loss of free TV licences for the over-75, now only those of that age bracket who are on pension credits.

Recently, the BBC estimated that it will spend £100million chasing TV licence fees from those who have dodged the charge and take them to court – to drum-up additional revenue. 

Lord Hall said: “The thing you can’t get away from is that if you want to have something good, a public service available to all – then it has to be funded by all not by subscription or behind some paywall.” 

BBC Radio 4’s The Media Show podcast is available to listen to here.

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