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Former BBC Television and History boss Jana Bennett dies aged 66

Jana Bennett, the former head of BBC Television and president of A+E Networks’ History, has passed away aged 66.

Jana Bennett

Bennett, who is survived by journalist husband Richard Clemmow and two children, had been diagnosed with a rare form of brain tumour called glioblastoma multiform in 2019 and subsequently become a trustee of cancer research app OurBrainBank.

Bennett rose to become one of television’s most successful executives and innovative thinkers, starting with a two-decade stint at UK pubcaster the BBC from the late 1970s.

Initially working in news and current affairs, she had stints with the investigative journalism series Panorama and as the first female editor of science strand Horizon. She was later named head of science.

US factual giant Discovery poached her at the turn of the millennium to lead The Learning Channel, which she transformed into female-skewing lifestyle network TLC, dominated by returning reality series.

That success saw her return to the BBC as director of television in 2002 as it shifted to a more digital focus, and in that role she oversaw the launch of the corporation’s online iPlayer service.

In 2011, she moved to head the pubcaster’s commercial arm BBC Worldwide and led the attempted roll-out of a global iPlayer but she left that role after little more than a year. This ended her connection with the BBC which by then had spanned more than three decades.

Discovery’s rival A+E Networks brought Bennett in to repeat her TLC turnaround job on its own LMN and Bio networks in 2013. Bio was subsequently ditched and rebranded as FYI and launched groundbreaking reality series such as Married At First Sight. A+E then promoted her to replace Dirk Hoogstra atop its flagship History brand.

In 2017, Bennett left the buying side of the business to move into production for the first time and as recently as 2019 resurfaced at youth-skewing OZY Media before her illness took hold.

BBC director general Tim Davie said: “Jana Bennett was one of the most talented television producers of her generation and a formidable champion of public service broadcasting. She was a trailblazer who rose to the top of the industry, tirelessly championing upcoming talent, as well as having the foresight to bring together television and digital services. She was a brilliant and gifted colleague and is a big loss to the television industry.”

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