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Saturday, 27 February 2016

Tony Blackburn Versus Tony Hall: Let Battle Commence


Recently dismissed BBC presenter Tony Blackburn has vowed to take legal action against the Director General, Tony Hall.

Blackburn, who was jettisoned by the BBC after almost half a century on the airwaves, has threatened to unleash his attack dogs against Lord Hall over claims that he was interviewed in relation to the Claire McAlpine case of the early 1970s. You can read the key highlights of Claire's tragic story here.

It must be stressed that no-one, at least to my knowledge, has accused Blackburn of any impropriety towards Claire McAlpine. On the contrary, it has been widely reported that Blackburn vociferously denies any involvement with the 15-year-old troubled pop wannabe.

Blackburn also denies any knowledge whatsoever that Vera McAlpine, Claire's mother, contacted the BBC in 1971 to allege that several personalities, including he, had seduced the vulnerable teenager.

Sadly that account does not tally with contemporaneous records of the day which indicate, according to the BBC, that Blackburn had indeed been interviewed in relation to Mrs McAlpine's allegations, by a senior BBC executive, Billy Cotton.

Furthermore, it has been claimed that former Court of Appeal Judge, The Rt. Hon. Sir Brian Neill QC, also interviewed Blackburn about the matter during the course of his investigation into the so-called payola scandal.

In the early 1970s, at around the time of Mrs McAlpine's allegations, the BBC was embroiled in deep controversy (some things never change) over claims that celebrities were taking bribes - both financial and sexual - to give certain records greater airtime, thus enhancing their standing within the charts. Brian Neill QC, a fresh-faced barrister as he was at the time, was tasked with getting to the nub of the matter.

According to Lord Hall, Blackburn has been dismissed because of the disparity in his account and that of the historic evidence uncovered during the course of the Dame Janet Smith Review.

Dame Janet has made it clear that she does not accept Blackburn's denials that he was questioned about Claire McAlpine all those years ago.

Her report states: "In our interview, A7 (Blackburn) denied that he was ever made aware that a complaint had been made against him and also denied that he was ever interviewed by Mr Cotton and/or Mr Preston (another BBC executive). He said that this was not a lapse of memory on his part; the interview had not taken place.

"It was pointed out to him that, if indeed there had been no interview, it was strange that Mr Preston should have written this memorandum and should have recorded his concern about the disparity between the account given by A7 at the interview and that given earlier by his agent. A7 could offer no explanation for this and said that he was 'mystified'.

"Later, through his solicitor, A7 accepted that I might well prefer the documentary evidence to his recollection on these issues. I do prefer that evidence and think that A7 was interviewed and denied the allegation."

If Blackburn's account is accurate, then the BBC and The Rt. Hon. Sir Brian Neill QC have invented a paper trail about interviews that never happened. What possible reasons could they have for doing that?

It will be very interesting to see which way this one develops, but suffice to say we will be absolutely flabbergasted if Blackburn does press ahead with a defamation claim against Lord Hall.

Is he also going to sue Dame Janet Smith for questioning his account? And The Rt. Hon. Sir Brian Neill QC? What about all those newspaper reporters that have commented on 1971 BBC memorandum in which he is named? And those thousands of people reading at home, who are feverishly piecing together the jigsaw in their own minds?

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