At the end of last week, it was reported that Charlotte Lock, launch director of the BBC’s flagship audio app BBC Sounds, has stepped down. Her departure comes at a time when the corporation is seeking an overall “Controller” for the app (as well as for its digital TV platform, BBC iPlayer), in what is already a shift in the way these products are managed.
Lock shared her reason for going with boss James Purnell, the BBC’s director of radio and education, who in turn included it in his email to staff announcing the change. She and her family are based in the north of England, and she’s been travelling to London for nine months in order to do the BBC Sounds launch director role. Now, she feels it’s important that the Sounds team have on-the-spot leadership, which she can’t provide while doing so much commuting. Here’s the relevant section of Purnell’s email, which you can also read in full here.
I respect Charlotte’s reasons for opting out of this next phase for Sounds, and with her agreement, I want to share that context with you. I persuaded Charlotte to move from her role as Director of M&A for R&E and Content to lead the launch phase of Sounds, knowing that meant typically travelling 20 hours each week back and forth from her home in the North of England. Charlotte has been clear that the next phase of Sounds needs visible and hands-on leadership in London and cannot be done remotely – a commitment that unfortunately, Charlotte can’t make long-term with a young family and home in the North.
Lock is moving on to a role with BBC Sport in which she will be reviewing their offering to younger audiences, a big and pressing concern for the BBC more broadly as I’ve written about a lot before. BBC Sport is a BBC North division, and as such is based at the Media City campus in Salford, Manchester, which is much nearer where she lives.
The London-centric nature of the BBC is a long running issue. As far back as 2010 and beyond, the corporation has been criticised by parliamentarians for not sufficiently discharging its responsibilities as a public broadcaster to represent the whole of the UK, something which has been argued is harder to do when a big chunk of your staff is based in the capital and rarely venture outside it. In 2011, as part of a strategy to address this problem, several major BBC divisions including BBC Sport, BBC Children’s and BBC Radio 5 Live moved to Salford. The following year, BBC Breakfast followed, although two of the presenters (anchor Sian Williams and sports host Chris Hollins) declined to be relocated and left the programme as a result.
As a small sense-check for those not familiar with the UK’s geography, the distance between the BBC’s base in central London and its campus in Salford is about 200 miles, a journey that can be done door to door via train in about three hours. It’s a hefty commute for someone like Lock who was trying to work full time in London, but it’s not an insurmountable distance for a weekly check-in meeting, say, if a team was to be split between the two locations.