From atrocities in Kosovo to Weird Weekends with Paul Daniels, new commissioning editor of C4's Dispatches Kevin Sutcliffe has seen it all.
BBC executive producer Kevin Sutcliffe's move to Channel 4 to commission its flagship current affairs strand Dispatches marks something of a homecoming to the high ground. Colleagues were surprised when the man who cut his teeth on Watchdog and Newsnight moved from Panorama to work on Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends. Did he have the head for lighter weight factual programming or the sense of humour for Theroux?But after five years of producing programmes on the Dunblane tragedy, the Kosovo conflict and former MI6 officer David Shayler, Sutcliffe didn't want to 'get stuck to the seat'. Despite being tipped in 1999 to be editor of Panorama, as series producer he thought he stood only an outside chance.

So he extended his repertory to programmes about rap music and the specials When Louis Met Jimmy (a profile of Jimmy Savile) and When Louis Met Paul And Debbie (featuring the magician Paul Daniels and his wife, Debbie McGee).

While insiders claim Sutcliffe was completely out of kilter with the factual entertainment genre, hip and innovation-hungry C4 was nevertheless impressed.

'If anything (the Louis Theroux programmes) showed I could work outside the production straitjacket (of current affairs),' Sutcliffe concedes.

Journalistic rigour and Sutcliffe are a good fit, say colleagues. He is dogged, gritty and impermeable. Managing director of Clark Television Bernard Clark was Sutcliffe's former boss on Hard News for C4. He praises his mature judgement and interpretation of a story. 'You worry when you're the boss whether (your employees) are right,' he admits. And was Sutcliffe? 'Oh yes, he was always right. He is instinctively good.'

BBC colleagues admire the way he handled the pressures of covering the Kosovo conflict for Panorama, entering areas where minefields had not been cleared and witnessing some chilling human rights atrocities. 'He's calm in a crisis,' says Panorama senior correspondent Jane Corbin, who made programmes with Sutcliffe in Albania and Kosovo.

'In Kosovo, we found a man pushing a wheelbarrow containing the incarcerated remains of his father down the street,' adds Sutcliffe. 'It's tough living with the sense that you're part reporter, part voyeur.'

BBC head of current affairs Peter Horrocks says: 'He films sympathetically and he's got a good popular touch too.' RDF Manchester series producer Nick Hayes, who gave Sutcliffe his first job in TV as a researcher, adds: 'He won't be swayed by making judgements on ratings alone.'

Sutcliffe, 40, studied film and photography at Hornsey College of Art before working as a freelance journalist for the Observer's colour supplement, the New Statesman, The Face and City Limits. Like many who have climbed past base camp in journalism, he knows his mind and can be impatient.

'It's time for (colleagues) to get their own back,' laughs Sutcliffe about this article. 'They'll call me a northern git.' Dour and humourless are among the responses. He's not far off.

Friends go further, suggesting he's a try-hard and can take himself too seriously. He is worthy and principled, finding current affairs - ' a job for obsessives' - difficult to switch off from. According to a former colleague: 'He's not ambitious personally, but ambitious to do good work.'

Sutcliffe has some ends to tie up on a new series for undercover reporter Donal MacIntyre, MacIntyre Investigates, before he joins C4 in January.

He plans to leave the BBC in December and take some time out and 'think Dispatches through'.

Will he be satisfied with his feet under a desk that looks out onto the unremarkable Horseferry Road? It's two years since he made a film, he insists, and is 'acclimatised to not being out with a cameraman eating bad sandwiches'. From executive producing to commissioning is not such a big leap, he suggests.

More significantly, his move is timely. Current affairs, the Cinderella of telly - unpredictable, low rating and plagued with legal complications - is enjoying a resurgence following the terrorist attacks in the US.

Clark says Sutcliffe's appointment at C4 is the best news he has heard all week. 'Our best programmes for Dispatches were mischievous in style and innuendo. If he can bring that to investigative current affairs it will be terrific.

'Kevin, unlike Dorothy (Byrne, former Dispatches commissioning editor), is not a sensationalist. We won't be seeing the history of the bra on Dispatches anymore.'