The utterings of Culture Secretary John Whittingdale are becoming increasingly arcane as we determine his Government’s true intentions for the BBC during the decennial dance otherwise known as its Royal Charter review.

Previously, Mr Whittingdale had built a reputation as a BBC basher, ready to question the corporation’s very existence. When the Cameron administration chose him to run Culture, Media and Sport after the General Election, it seemed like putting the fox in charge of the hen house.

The chatter was that Whittingdale would do more than clip the BBC’s wings. Concern became louder when the Treasury foisted on the corporation responsibility for subsidising the over-75s’ free licence fees, the assumption being that this is indeed a government willing to sacrifice all that is good about the BBC at the altar of its great critic Rupert Murdoch.

The truth seems quite different, but the outlook nevertheless confusing. Mr Whittingdale has spoken at industry events at Edinburgh and Cambridge recently, all sweetness and light. As he confesses to have grown up with Dr Who and to be an avid viewer of QI, he is attempting to pull back from a perceived hatred of the BBC. He even plans to meet comedy writer and director Armando Iannucci, who delivered an excoriating critique of the Tories’ handling of the BBC in Edinburgh last month.

This week he assured the Royal Television Society that there is “no prospect of the BBC being abolished”. He added: “Had I been asked if I could live without the BBC, I would certainly have said No.” Rather than doing Mr Murdoch’s bidding, he pointed out that he was the one who summoned the media mogul to give evidence to a Commons committee inquiry into phone hacking at News International.

So is Mr Whittingdale a double agent, secretly planning to save the BBC and its funding model, so that it can survive another decade unscathed? Truth is, we still don’t know.

There are many issues facing the BBC. In Scotland, it remains unpopular with Yes campaigners convinced that its news operation took sides during the referendum campaign. Local executives appear to have ambitious plans for more programming and greater spending, echoed apparently by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Her administration is supposedly part of the charter renewal consultation process, although to date this appears to have boiled down to Mr Whittingdale repeating that the first B in BBC stands for “British”.

Might the Culture Secretary in fact be a triple agent? The worrying thing is that, despite his protestations, he appears to be indicating the review should influence what kind of programmes the BBC should make (The Voice), or when they should be scheduled (News at Ten). These should not be decisions for any politician.

His government is likely to kill off the ineffective BBC Trust, whose remit makes it both regulator and cheerleader. Savile, and other scandals, only underlined its uselessness.