Ex-Labour Cabinet minister leads race to replace Lord Hall at helm of BBC

James Purnell is the bookies' favourite, while director of news Fran Unsworth is also in the running.

Former Labour politician James Purnell has been named as the front-runner to succeed Lord Tony Hall as Director-General of the BBC.

A woman could fill the top job for the first time, with Fran Unsworth also touted as a possible replacement.

Bookmakers Ladbrokes are offering odds of 2/1 on Purnell replacing Lord Hall, who is stepping down after seven years in the role.

Current BBC director of news Unsworth has odds of 4/1 to take up the position, while BBC Three controller Fiona Campbell has odds of 5/1.

Former director of radio at the corporation Helen Boaden and Sarah Sands, the editor of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, are also among the list of names touted as possible successors.

Here are some of the people who could be in the running to replace Lord Hall.

– James Purnell

James Purnell was Work and Pensions Secretary in Gordon Brown's Cabinet
James Purnell was Work and Pensions Secretary in Gordon Brown’s Cabinet (PA)

The BBC’s director of radio and education is currently the bookmakers’ favourite to take on the role.

He first worked at the BBC in the 1990s as head of corporate planning but left to become a special adviser to Tony Blair after he became Prime Minister.

Purnell was elected MP for Stalybridge and Hyde, before becoming Culture Secretary then Work and Pensions Secretary.

He resigned from the Government in June 2009, criticising the leadership of Gordon Brown.

Purnell returned to the BBC in 2013 as director of strategy and digital, and took up the role of director of radio and education in 2016.

– Fran Unsworth

Fran Unsworth
Fran Unsworth has been at the BBC for 40 years (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

The BBC director of news began her journalistic career in 1980 in BBC local radio, joining Radio 1’s Newsbeat.

Her previous posts included the BBC’s home news editor, head of political programmes and head of news gathering.

She was the BBC’s acting director of news and current affairs for periods between 2012 and 2013 and was made director of the BBC World Service Group in 2014, overseeing the biggest expansion of the World Service since the 1940s.

– Anne Bulford

Anne Bulford
Anne Bulford has received an OBE for services to broadcasting (House of Commons/PA)

As the BBC’s first female Deputy Director-General, Bulford is well-placed to replace Lord Hall.

In January last year she announced she was leaving the BBC after six years as deputy.

She previously worked at Channel 4 as chief operating officer and received an OBE for services to broadcasting in the 2012 Queen’s Birthday Honours.

Before that she spent three years working with the Royal Opera House.

– Alex Mahon

Formerly the chief executive of visual effects software developer Foundry, Mahon has been Channel 4’s chief executive since 2017.

She took over David Abraham as Channel 4 boss, becoming the first female chief executive of a major UK broadcaster.

– Dame Carolyn McCall

Dame Carolyn McCall could take over from Lord Tony Hall
Dame Carolyn McCall could take over from Lord Tony Hall (Matt Frost/ITV/PA)

The former easyJet boss has been chief executive of ITV since 2018.

Before that she was chief executive of Guardian Media Group.

Her time at the top of ITV has been characterised by the launch of BritBox and increased scrutiny over the broadcaster’s reality show aftercare.

– Kamal Ahmed

Ahmed has served as the editorial director of BBC News since 2018, previously working as the broadcaster’s economics editor and business editor.

Before that he worked as political editor of The Observer, business editor of The Sunday Telegraph and director of communications at the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

– Sarah Sands

Sarah Sands
Sarah Sands (Rick Findler/PA)

Sands has been at the head of Today, the BBC’s flagship news and current affairs radio programme, since she became editor in 2017.

She was appointed the first female editor of The Sunday Telegraph in 2005, and later worked as consultant editor on the Daily Mail and as editor-in-chief of the UK edition of Reader’s Digest.

Between 2012 and 2017 she served as editor of the London Evening Standard before taking up her current role at the BBC.

– Helen Boaden

Boaden spent more than 30 years working for the BBC, including as director of radio between 2013 and 2016.

In 2019 she joined the board of the UK Statistics Authority for a period of three years.

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