The BBC’s Director of Factual and Learning John Willis is to step down from the organisation after three years, it was announced today. BBC Director-General Mark Thompson said: “John is one of the most respected creative leaders in British broadcasting.
“At the BBC, he has presided over groundbreaking programmes like Planet Earth, The Secret Policeman and the launch of BBC jam. As a member of the Executive Direction Group he has been a key figure in helping shape the direction of the BBC’s Creative Future content strategy. I am grateful to John for the work he has done in strengthening and simplifying F&L. I fully support the changes he and his colleagues have made there.
“As we shape BBC production to deliver Creative Future we intend to build on the strong base John has laid. We talked about various roles for John as we begin to implement Creative Future but he has decided to take the opportunity to retire from the BBC and pursue other avenues. We all wish him the very best.”
John Willis said: “My three years here have been book-ended by two of the most important programmes the BBC has made in the last 20 years, The Secret Policeman and Planet Earth, as well as many brilliant programmes in between including Live 8, Dunkirk and Auschwitz.
“We have also established F&L as world class producers of digital content across new platforms and launched a new era in schools broadcasting with BBC jam. This marvellous content has been produced despite almost continuous change. Now that the organisation is also planning a BBC-wide restructure, I believe this is the right time for me to retire from the BBC, although certainly not from broadcasting.
“The full benefits of the new F&L structure are becoming clearer and the division is in good shape for the future. The foundations are very strong and I know that I have left the division a more coherent and creative place than when I arrived. For myself, I recently became External Ombudsman for the Guardian but I fully intend to continue my main career in broadcasting.”
John Willis began his career as a documentary maker at Yorkshire Television winning awards for ground-breaking programmes like Johnny Go Home and Rampton ? the Secret Hospital. He later edited the innovative documentary strand First Tuesday.
As Channel 4’s Controller of Factual Programmes he created successful new strands like Cutting Edge, True Stories and Secret History.
As Director of Programmes he oversaw the production of innovative series like Father Ted and Rory Bremner, and film successes like Four Weddings and a Funeral and Trainspotting. He also guided Channel 4’s entry into schools broadcasting and was Chairman of Channel 4 Learning.
After Channel 4, John became Chief Executive of United Productions where he built a fast-growing production division including Hornblower and Oliver Twist. When Granada bought United, he was appointed Managing Director of London Weekend and United Productions.
In 2001, he won the prestigious Royal Television Society Gold Medal for Creative Contribution to Television. He became Vice President in charge of National Programming at WGBH in Boston, the biggest station in the public service network in the United States, before joining the BBC in April 2003.