I BET GRAHAM NORTON WOULDN’T GET OUT OF BED AT 6 AM FOR £50!

JOHN McGURK

Surely the only reason the BBC refuses to publish what it pays its stars is obvious. Clearly it pays them far too much.

Some of them even lined up over the weekend to pledge their allegiance before the government publishes its white paper about the future of the corporation on Thursday.

Few of us would disagree that the BBC is a world class broadcaster which should not in any way be diminished although the puerile One Show may well be the exception.

But the notion that it should be ring-fenced and invulnerable to the realities of the commercial world is nonsense.

As long as it is paid for and funded by the licence payer, why should the BBC not be an open book and subject to the same scrutiny as any other publicly-funded organisation?

This arrangement would most likely make it more efficient and, consequently, much more nimble and effective.

It is most unlikely that Thursday’s white paper will make any mention of BBC celebrity salaries because there are much bigger issues at stake such as how the corporation should be managed and governed.

The hapless BBC Trust is likely to be replaced by a board where the chairman, deputy and six non- executive directors will be appointed by the government.

Yet the pay packets of its big names, along with their income tax arrangements, continually fascinate and this is one of the issues which appears to crop up every time there is mention of BBC charter renewal.

Here the BBC takes the high ground by claiming that it could not possibly tell us how much the likes of Graham Norton earn because it would be giving away secrets to rival broadcasters.

Their other major reason is that celebrities whose pay was made public may not wish to work for the BBC and would take their skills and talent elsewhere.

It’s the same sort of argument made by the banks who complained that if they didn’t pay enormous sums then their big-hitters would be off to the Far East.

Meanwhile rival banks in Singapore and Hong Kong were worried that if their people weren’t paid enough they would head for London.

Despite what was said about the threat to the BBC at the weekend BAFTA awards by the director of the excellent BBC series Wolf Hall, television has changed beyond all recognition because of fragmentation and technology.

Where once the BBC was recognised as the home of compelling drama, this is no longer the case.

The success of digital broadcasters such as Amazon Prime and Netflix with productions such as House of Cards, Breaking Bad and numerous other hugely entertaining shows have confirmed that the BBC is now far behind.

Perhaps more worrying for any terrestrial broadcaster is the fact that digital folk can chose when to watch these shows and how many episodes they want to binge on in one sitting.

Neither do viewers rely on BBC news and current affairs as they once did thanks a plethora of news channels.

Would the audience for the self-serving Graham Norton chat show be smaller if he was replaced by a far cheaper presenter?

Would there not be another cheaper host desperate to fill his shoes if he were to leave?

Would it not be the same for virtually every other programme where the star’s pay cheque is shrouded in secrecy?

Runaway salaries and bonuses in big business and on the football pitch have undoubtedly fuelled the salaries of those who are seen to be indispensable but the fact of the matter is that no-one is.

At this stage, perhaps I should declare an interest.

A couple of months ago, at around midnight on a Sunday, my mobile phone rang.

It turned out to be a researcher on the Radio 4 Today programme begging me to be a guest the following morning at 0715.

She would send a taxi to whisk me to the BBC Edinburgh office where an interview would be conducted down the line.

So there I was, standing outside my home waiting for the supposed taxi at 0645 on a freezing Monday having dragged myself out of bed at 6am.

The taxi never turned up.

Following several frantic phone calls to various BBC numbers which failed to answer, I eventually got through to someone on the Today programme who was surprised to learn that I was unaware that the slot had been cancelled because of some breaking story.

They had tried to call me but used the wrong number.

For my trouble, they sent me a cheque for £50.

I very much doubt if Graham Norton, who reportedly sold his TV production company for £17 million, would even think about getting out of bed for that amount.

jcmcgurk@blueyonder.co.uk

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  Comments: 1


  1. BBC Scotland paid me £8 per story in the late 1990s when I was a freelance journalist receiving on average £100 per page lead from Scottish daily newspapers – excluding The Herald and Scotsman. I soon tired of the BBC’s parsimonious payments and declined to send them further stories. STV paid me £30 a shot. I had to send any copy to both TV companies after midnight to prevent spoiling my exclusives for the morning papers. The BBC refused to increase their payments. Considering the BBC’s niggardly payments to freelance journalists John McGurk’s payment of £50 just to get out of bed was excessive. Eight quid would been enough! Regards from a gratefully retired journalist.

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