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He's been here before, but as an oddjobbing newspaper boy back in 1964. Now Michael Lynch has the odder job of heading one of the world's most renowned but troubled arts complexes.

The 51-year-old Australian is the latest high-profile leader to be enlisted by another 51 year old, London's South Bank Centre.

Lynch becomes SBC chief executive in September and freely admits he will need his trademark tough-but-chummy approach for a masterplan that has stalled for 15 years.

'User-friendliness is critical' is his first impression of a stretch of riverside condemned by MPs three months ago as squalid and menacing. Times have changed since Lynch's last prolonged stay in England, a year with his father in Surrey when he was 14 years old.

Much of that change is cultural, and he's keen to bury the cliché of Australian backwardness. 'When I visited with a major arts programme in 1996, most of the TV footage of me was juxtaposed with Dame Edna, ' says Lynch, who was lured from the Sydney Opera House by a £150,000 salary.

'I suspect things have moved on. I'm more comfortable this time round and feel on a pretty equal footing. You've embraced your national soccer manager in a very magnanimous way, and as another middleaged balding guy from abroad, I should be in reasonably good shape to cope.'

Behind the humour lies a cold determination. As chief executive of Sydney Opera House, Lynch coaxed Jørn Utzon back into the concrete fold after an unhappy absence of 33 years. The opera house had a 'tumultuous history' and bad acoustics.

Lynch pushed through a £20 million refurbishment over four years, and has to do much the same at Royal Festival Hall.

'What I have learned over the course of four years at the Sydney Opera House will inevitably inform how we move forward over the next few years here. It is with some regret I am leaving the opera house - I was on a five-year-contract - but after much soul-searching I knew this was too good an opportunity to turn down.'

In the meantime, he is looking at disaster areas here to battle-harden himself for the SBC's grey ramparts. 'We have kept close tabs on the Millennium Dome and Wembley Stadium. The Wembley experience is a very salutary example of how not to move forward, and that's why we

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