Like most people I came across yesterday, I was fascinated to learn the details of ‘who gets what’ when the BBC published (in bands) the salaries of its presenters and actors who earn 150,000 pounds sterling or more and yet at the same time I also had misgivings about the disclosures.
The first things that came to mind were Oscar Wilde’s famous definition of a cynic (placed in the mouth of the character Lord Darlington) in his play Lady Windermere’s Fan – first performed in 1892 – as “Someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing” and the notion first put to me by a gossiping former boss, though I’m pretty sure it was not of his origination, that “You are only ever worth what you can persuade someone to pay you”.
As you might expect, my uneasiness about the revelations lies in the area of confidentiality, privacy and some quibbles in fact raised in the media yesterday by interviewees regarding issues of the definitions of what type of employment or contract the presenters and/or actors engaged by the BBC were on, and so on.
Regarding the last of these, I’m sure some very well paid ‘creatives’, artistes, presenters and actors [let’s lump them together here under the heading ‘talent’] did not make yesterday’s list either by random chance and/or their management’s very astute structuring of their contracts and/or tax affairs.
Thus my first criticism was that the deal should have been a case of either ‘everybody gets their salaries exposed … or nobody does’.
I’m freewheeling somewhat on this topic because – in the 21st Century – we have become used to the annual ritual of perusing The Sunday Times RICH LIST … of Celebrity Big Brother and Love Island contestants airing intimate details of their lives and/or having sex on reality television … there’s scarcely a piece of dirty linen known to man which these days doesn’t do the rounds on social media in a matter of seconds every day of the week … with scarcely anyone batting an eyelid.
Would it really be so awful if everyone knew (or could find out) exactly what everyone else earns? They already seem to know our sexual interests and preferences, the lies we’ve told to people to get our way on things and indeed our innermost thoughts (that previous generations would have kept to themselves and hoped to take to their graves) … all largely because, in one form or another, sometimes by accident, we’ve already aired them in public.
For example, why is it that those ‘name’ newspaper columnists who have been busy penning their ‘Shock! Horror!’ opinion pieces about BBC salaries not also required to publish after their by lines ‘[Name (175,000 pounds sterling – or whatever it is)]’?
In a ‘normal’ job situation – let’s take an organisation in which grades of authority and job are strictly delineated for this example – all Grade 1 workers in a bakery, or perhaps a call centre, might be paid the same wage. Sounds fair. But then Worker A might work harder than Worker B, or be innately better at the job than Worker C – is it fair that he or she should be paid only the same? Or might it be ‘fairer’ if the organisation, recognising that fact, it paid Worker A more than it pays Worker B or C?
Who knows? Does it matter? Or doesn’t it?
Working alongside the plodder may be someone else who can complete that task – and indeed two others – before the lunch break without so much as breaking sweat.
Arguably, the latter is worth three times as much, possibly more than that, to the organisation as the plodder is. Arguably, perhaps, he or she would be justified in claiming that they should be paid more.
These issues apply everywhere and become complex when it comes to ‘star’ quality and activities such as acting or presenting.
But is anyone suggesting that any actor who ever undertakes the role should be paid the same as Cumberbatch?
Or even that Cumberbatch should be paid only as much as a kid gets when he is playing Hamlet in a tiny provincial theatre in his first-ever job after leaving drama school?
I think not.
I don’t buy the argument that there’s a rate for every job and everybody should get it.
I’d hazard a guess that each of us – this a subjective thing, of course – could name a presenter who we think is pretty hopeless but who still gets plenty of work – and probably well-paid work at that. Some people even manage to make a career of being useless but still popular … and yes, upon occasions this can be just because of their looks.
Are we going to decree that an actor who has a reputation as a good-looking heart throb cannot be allowed to pitch to play the romantic lead in a new drama series being cast because that would be unfair to a fellow actor who looks like Benny from Crossroads?
And take the ‘lovability’ issue. When it comes to presenters, views are subjective. You may hate Jeremy Vine, I may think he’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. Some people have lovability’. Some don’t. Some of the best interviewers ‘have great faces for radio’ (or don’t like, or suit, television) so what does the average viewer/listener actually want – incisive interviewing, or inferior interviewing by those who, some people’s standards, are more easy on the eye?
And – when it comes to fairness or ‘equality’ – which of them should get paid what?
Let’s discuss the late, some might say great, Sir Terry Wogan.
I was no particular fan of his but – almost certainly through a long, hard road of graft and gradually working his way up the slippery pole, but perhaps it was just by a certain natural affability and a huge slice of good luck – he became a natural and expert broadcaster.
Rather like Des Lynham or Frank Bough [now there’s a name whose escutcheon became somewhat sullied], Wogan was technically a great presenter whose secret was that he made it look as though he’d just popped by the television studio on his way home from the pub, or doing the shopping, and had stopped off for a chat.
The irony of it all is that it takes a hell of a lot of slog, and years of experience, and balls, to enable presenters such as those to make what they do so well look so effortless and easy.
Yes, now Terry Wogan has passed on, you can get Presenter A,B, C … through to Z … to step in and anchor Children In Need the next time it comes around. But don’t try and kid me that “There’s obviously a rate for the job – the one that Terry used to get – and therefore that’s what I should also be paid …”
And for Gawd’s sake, please don’t ask me what I think of Gary Lineker …