Speculation is mounting that Mark Thompson, the BBC's director general, is preparing to step down from the corporation.
In what it claims as an “exclusive”, The Guardian reports: “He has signalled to senior colleagues that he is ready to step down, with insiders believing he will quit at the end of 2012 or early in 2013, at the end of the broadcaster's Olympic year.
“Britain's most powerful television executive has not given an exact timetable for his departure, but friends say he acknowledges that he has entered the final chapter of his eight-year director generalship and is ‘psychologically ready’ to leave a job that paid him £779,000 last year.”
Thompson, 54, took over at the BBC in the wake of the resignations of Greg Dyke as director general and Gavyn Davies as chairman.
The Guardian report claims that a succession race could see a woman appointed to run the BBC for the first time, with both Caroline Thomson, chief operating officer, and Helen Boaden, head of news, highlighted as being two of the three best placed internal candidates.
“Their main rival is the low-key but cerebral George Entwistle, recently appointed head of BBC Vision, the corporation's TV channels.
“However, with no obvious frontrunner, the job could easily fall to an outsider, with Peter Fincham, ITV's director of television, who resigned from the BBC in the wake of the "Crowngate" editing row, and Channel 4's chief executive, David Abraham, possible contenders.”
“Eager to demolish any speculation that there has been a falling out with the BBC Trust chairman, Lord Patten, insiders say Thompson told the Conservative peer at the time of his appointment last year that he intended to step down sometime before the chairman's term ended in 2015.”
On Monday Patten chose an interview with The Times to confirm that the executive search firm Egon Zehnder had started preliminary work so that "when the time comes" the BBC had an "intelligent view" of possible successors.
Patten, a former Tory party chairman, said on Wednesday he had never belonged to an organisation that had done succession planning well and wanted to ensure there was a plan for the BBC.
Concerned that the corporation's history in appointing director generals was flooded with "blood on the carpet" and "briefings", the chairman insisted that Thompson would leave at a time of his own choosing.