British businessman and former BBC chairman Sir Christopher Bland has died, aged 78.
Sir Christopher was chairman of the BBC board of governors between 1996 and 2001.
He also held a number of senior roles in business, including chairman of BT, and was head of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC).
His son, Archie, said: “He was as sweet and gentle and wise as he was tough and bold and brave.”
BBC director general Tony Hall said: “Sir Christopher Bland was an outstanding chairman of the BBC. He was a great communicator who both understood the creativity of broadcasting as well as the business of it.
“He was hugely admired and will be greatly missed.”
In a statement, Sir Christopher’s family said he had died peacefully at home, having defied cancer for three years.
The statement continued: “He relished every day of his life, and to those that loved him he is irreplaceable. We’re enormously proud of everything he achieved, from steering the BBC through tough times to his late flowering as a novelist, and we’ll miss him more than we can say.”
Sir Christopher, who also spent time as head of London Weekend Television (LWT), spoke out in support of the BBC on a number of occasions after he left the corporation.
Two years ago, he criticised the government for transferring the funding of free licence fees for the over-75s to the BBC, saying it was “the worst form of dodgy Whitehall accounting”.
In 2008, when Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand were suspended from the BBC for leaving lewd messages on actor Andrew Sachs’s phone, Sir Christopher said “the meal that those who are not natural lovers of the BBC have made out of it all is excessive”.
‘Passionate and playful’
After leaving the BBC, he became chairman of BT, turning the company around at a time when its senior management had come under sustained criticism from investors.
Between 2004 and 2011 he was chairman of the RSC, overseeing a £112m re-development of the company’s home in Stratford-upon-Avon.
On artistic director Michael Boyd’s departure, he said: “If the RSC is in good shape now, it is in large part due to the expert, passionate and playful chairmanship of Sir Christopher Bland.”
Archie Bland reported his father’s death on Twitter, ending his message with the words, “God I’ll miss him”.
BBC News presenter Huw Edwards offered his sympathy, writing that “at the BBC many of us remember him as an exemplary chairman”.
Master of Selwyn College, Cambridge, and former head of BBC News and BBC Sport Roger Mosey said: “[He] was the best BBC chairman in recent times. Tough, independent, wise and fair.”
BBC media editor Amol Rajan wrote: “Christopher Bland is just about the most kind, impressive and inspirational man I ever met.
“Goodbye hero. I commend his spirit to the living.”
Sir Christopher is survived by his wife Lady Jennifer, his son and his four step-children.