James Purnell
James Purnell, former Labour culture secretary, was head of corporate planning at the BBC in the 1990s

Lord Hall, the BBC’s incoming director-general, has announced the first of a series of senior appointments as he begins his shake-up of top management in the wake of the Jimmy Savile crisis.

James Purnell, the former Labour culture secretary, was on Thursday appointed director, strategy and digital. In what is a new position he will head several divisions including communications, marketing, audience and public affairs. Following the announcement, Paul Mylrea, director of communications at the BBC, said he was stepping down.

BBC insiders said the new role was about gaining a much deeper understanding of its viewers and listeners in a digital age in order to inform creation of new programmes and technology.

“By bringing audience under one roof, it allows us to develop a more intuitive digital strategy,” said Alan Yentob, creative director at the BBC.

The appointment marks a return to the BBC for the former politician – now a producer at TV production company Rare Day – who was head of corporate planning at the broadcaster from 1995 to 1997. It will also reunite him with Lord Hall who, as head of news at the BBC in the 1990s, worked closely with Mr Purnell.

Media commentators spoke highly of Mr Purnell’s TV skills, citing awards won for documentary flim making. He sits on the board of the British Film Institute and the Royal National Theatre.

But some said the creation of a new position appeared to signal a reversal of the BBC’s recent strategy of slimming down management.

“It’s kind of peddling back from the paring back of those layers of management,” said Claire Enders of Enders Analysis, a research group. “It is an indication that eliminating the deputy director-general and chief operating officer roles were a bit too much.”

There were also concerns from some media analysts that given his political past, Mr Purnell’s appointment could cloud sensitive discussions, likely to begin next year, over the future of the licence fee.

As part of the changes, Helen Boaden, director of news, will become director of radio in what observers viewed as a sideways move. Ms Boaden’s annual salary will remain unchanged at £340,000.

Tim Davie, the acting director-general, saw his role expanded from chief executive of BBC Worldwide, the broadcaster’s commercial arm, to include the position of global director. He will be responsible for developing the BBC’s international brand and editorial strategy.

The BBC will shortly start the search for a new director of news and director of television. It said it would consider internal and external candidates.

Internal candidates for the director of news role include Peter Horrocks, director of global news, and Roger Mosey, acting director of vision.

Some BBC insiders said Lord Hall was keen to create a new head of BBC journalism role to ensure proper oversight of editorial decisions. Mark Byford, a former deputy-director general at the BBC, had this additional title until he left the broadcaster in 2011.

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