BBC controller quits over ‘crowngate’ scandal

BBC1 controller Peter Fincham resigned today in the wake of a damning report into misleading footage of the Queen.

The most high-profile casualty in a string of TV fakery scandals, he was forced to go after the independent inquiry revealed a catalogue of “misjudgements, poor practice and ineffective systems” at the Corporation.

The trailer for forthcoming series ‘A Year with the Queen’ appeared to show the monarch storming out of a photoshoot after photographer Annie Leibovitz suggested she remove her crown.

Fincham aired it to an audience of journalists at a press launch on the morning of July 11 and said it showed the Queen “walking out in a huff”.

By 7pm that night he was aware that the trailer had been misleadingly edited by production company RDF — footage of the Queen apparently walking out of the shoot was actually of her walking in.

But a decision was taken to delay issuing a correction until the following day.

An apology was eventually made at noon on July 12, only after the story had made headline news and caused serious embarrassment to the BBC.

BBC director-general Mark Thompson was kept in the dark about the episode.

The independent inquiry by former BBC executive Will Wyatt was highly critical of the BBC and of RDF.

Stephen Lambert, head of RDF and the man personally responsible for editing the footage, also resigned today. The report said his behaviour had been “cavalier”.

Fincham had resisted calls to quit in the days after the affair and said the director-general was behind him.

But this afternoon he announced “with great sadness” that he was leaving the post he had held for the past two years.

The Wyatt report said the fiasco had strained the “vital relationship” between the BBC and the Royal household.

And it said the BBC’s reputation was “tarnished further in the eyes of the licence fee paying public”, coming after a string of incidents which had damaged viewers’ trust.

The report decided there had been no conscious effort to defame or misrepresent the Queen.

But it went on: “That said, the incident reveals misjudgments, poor practice and ineffective systems as well, of course, as the usual helping of bad luck that often accompanies such sorry affairs.

“A fuse was inexcusably lit when RDF edited footage of the Queen in a cavalier fashion for a promotional tape.”

The report concluded that the BBC was “slow to appreciate the magnitude and import of the mistake” and “naive” in the hope that the story would blow over.

Buckingham Palace declined to comment, saying it was a matter for the BBC.

However, the report revealed the Palace agreed a statement retracting the story at 9.44pm on the day the trailer was shown. But both they and the BBC decided to hold it overnight to “check the temperature of the story”.

Mr Thompson said he accepted the inquiry findings and repeated the BBC’s apology to the Queen.

“It is important that the BBC learns all the lessons from this matter and take steps to ensure that nothing of this kind is repeated.

“Although I take some comfort from Will Wyatt’s conclusion that no one consciously set out to defame or misrepresent the Queen in respect of the BBC’s preparation for the BBC1 launch, the fact is that serious mistakes were made which put misleading information about the Queen into the public domain.

“That is why we are determined to take all necessary steps to address the shortcomings set out in this report.

“When this matter first came to light, we unreservedly apologised to Her Majesty the Queen. I repeat that apology again today without hesitation.”

Mr Thompson praised Fincham as an “outstanding controller” and accepted his resignation “with real sadness”.

The BBC Trust chairman Sir Michael Lyons said it was clear from the report that “serious errors of judgements” had been made and proper controls were not applied.

RDF has already accepted responsibility for the editing of the trailer.

The report said it demonstrated “a cavalier way of treating any footage, let alone of the head of state going about her duties.”

In his resignation statement, Lambert said: “My action, which I accept in the words of the inquiry was ’cavalier’, was the first step in a chain of carelessness and misunderstandings which had very serious consequences. It was therefore right that I should go.”

It is not known whether the five-part documentary planned for this autumn will ever be shown.

The trailer showed the Queen walking into a room wearing a tiara and Order of the Garter robes.

Photographer Leibovitz said: “I think it will look better without the crown because the garter robe is so…”

A stony-faced Queen replied: “Less dressy? What do you think this is?” while pointing to what she was wearing. The trailer then cut to her apparently storming out.

But the report revealed that, far from being irritated by Leibovitz’s suggestion, the Queen paused after her “less dressy” comment, then chuckled and carried on with the photoshoot.

This was caught on film but left out of the trailer.

RDF told the inquiry it was not clear in the original sequence why the Queen was in a bad mood and edited it so that it “made more sense”.

Following Fincham’s resignation, BBC2 controller Roly Keating will take over as acting controller of BBC1.

There is speculation that he may take on the role full-time.

Other names in the frame include former Endemol boss Peter Bazalgette.