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14 October 2017

An Open Letter to the BBC

Tag(s): Business, Languages & Culture
Lord Hall of Birkenhead
Director General
British Broadcasting Corporation
Broadcasting House
London W1
Dear Lord Hall

In July this year the BBC revealed the pay scales of its top paid performers and received a great deal of criticism. Most of this criticism focused on the apparent disparity among these so–called ‘stars’ between men and women and you have committed to regularise that over time. That is no doubt to be commended though I do not think it is the main point. Much of the criticism was hypocritical as it came in newspapers where the editors pay themselves far more than you and sometimes as much as all but the highest paid of your ‘stars’.  But I do not think that is the main point either.

For me the main points are both the sheer scale of these salaries in what is after all a public service. Coupled with that is the utter random nature of these pay scales. There is no obvious logic behind them. Let me expand on these two points.

Your highest paid star is Chris Evans at £2.2m+. I personally find him irritating and stopped listening to the Radio 2 breakfast show after the sad loss of Terry Wogan. I understand that Mr Evans also succeeded the great Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear after Mr Clarkson went off for a dollar salary rather than a sterling one. This did not seem to work out well for the BBC.

Your next is Gary Lineker at £1.75m+. Gary was a great player and has a pleasant cheeky chappie appeal but as a football fan I don’t watch Match of the Day for the presenters but for the football highlights. I preferred the show when there was much more action and far less so-called analysis.

Graham Norton hauls in a colossal £850K+ for hosting a Saturday am radio show and some other TV work like his commentary on the annual Eurovision Song Contest. When the great Terry Wogan used to send up this rotten show hilariously I would watch just for the latter part when the scores came in and Mr Wogan would scoff mercilessly as neighbouring countries gave each other douze points. I don’t watch it now. These earnings apparently do not include those from his Friday night chat show, for which the BBC pays an independent production company, which in turn pays his salary.[i]

Then comes Jeremy Vine on £700k+. I don’t listen to his show but he seems to have developed quite a good relationship with his listeners. But how it can be worth that much is beyond me.

John Humphreys is on £600k+, an astonishing sum for a radio news presenter. We listen to the Today programme to understand the news agenda for the day. It takes a team effort of many people behind the scenes. It is not logical to pay Mr Humphreys £600k, his colleagues Nick Robinson £250k+, Mishal Hussein £200k+, Justin Webb £150k+ and Sarah Montague less than that because she’s not on the list. We listen to it every day and until the programme starts we don’t know who is presenting it. Therefore it is obvious that we don’t listen to it because of particular presenters.

Another news presenter Huw Edwards is on an amazing £550k+. He does a good job and I know he is wheeled out for all the solemn occasions like Remembrance Day but we would watch those whoever was doing it.

Steve Wright is on £500k+. If Mr Vine is worth £700k then I suppose Mr Wright is worth £500k but that’s the problem. Once you’ve set such looney pay scales then anything goes. On £450k+ there is Matt Baker, apparently the One Show co-host but that means nothing to me. Also on £450k+ is Claudia Winkleman who co-hosts Strictly come Dancing. The main host of Strictly, Tess Daly gets a mere £350k+, another strange anomaly. But I’ll let you into a secret. My wife and I do watch Strictly most weeks. I’ll let you into another secret. We watch it for the dancing, not to watch two young women reading autocues. Meanwhile the judges, who are definitely part of the entertainment, are all over the place. Len Goodman and Bruno Tonioli get £200k+ while Darcey Bussell and Craig Revel Horwood scrape by on £150k+.

On £400k+ we have Alex Jones, another One Show co-host, Nicky Campbell, Alan Shearer, and Andrew Marr. I don’t know the One Show, I do watch Andrew Marr but then turn it off when Nicky Campbell comes on and I have already made my point about Match of the Day.

Fiona Bruce gets £350k+. Ms Bruce likes to present herself as a journalist but she just reads an autocue. As for the Antique Roadshow we watch that in spite of Ms Bruce, not because of her.

John McEnroe, the tennis star turned pundit gets £150k+ for two weeks’ work at Wimbledon. Again nobody watches Wimbledon because of the commentators. They watch it for the tennis.

I won’t go further down the pay scale except to say that the anomalies are weird. I’ve already pointed out the Today show anomalies but the lack of logic is plain to see. Mr Marr gets £400k+ but Andrew Neil, Martha Kearney and Victoria Derbyshire just half that. In sport Sue Barker is apparently worth £300k+ but Clare Balding only half that. Jason Mohammed whom I’ve never heard of gets £250k+ but the excellent Jonathan Agnew just £150k+. Jeremy Bowen risks his life in the Middle East for £150k+ but Eddie Mair just sits in the PM studio for £300k+.

It is possible that a few of these ‘stars’ are worth the money in that they may have established and built a show creating their own audience through their personality and charm. But the vast majority have simply inherited a legacy.  It was Bruce Forsyth who set the tone for Strictly. The Andrew Marr Show is just a re-run of The David Frost Show. The Today programme has been going for 60 years and its audience does not depend on its presenters. Match of the Day has been going for over 50 years and no one watches it for the banter between Gary Lineker and his chums.  Ex-players don’t make the best analysts as they may still have friends in the game and their club allegiances are all well known.

But there is another scandal at the BBC which is not so well known although to be fair to you it is not hidden. Since 2009 the salaries of all employees over £150k are declared on a BBC website together with their expenses by quarter. This is fair and transparent. But the money is again simply too much.

I am glad to see that your own pay of £450k is less than your predecessor Mark Thompson who back in 2010 received £664k but you still have 100 executives paid over £150,000, more than the Secretary of Culture, Media and Sport whose department oversees your activities. That is a crazy number of overpaid people and shows just how bloated your bureaucracy is.  You even pay your HR Director £320k, a quite extraordinary sum.

 As I said in my previous blog on the subject[ii] the BBC has a unique funding formula that places a great responsibility on its Trust and its management. It gets the entire TV licence fee as its income, £145.50 per household at the time of writing, and this is enforced uniquely by the criminal law. Not only does this mean that the BBC effectively receives a poll tax on most households in the country but it also increases as households fragment and population grows. No business has guarantee of income and benefits from household growth but the BBC executives pay yourselves as if you were an international business rather than a public servant.  With this unfair advantage of guaranteed income enforceable by law the BBC competes directly with commercial enterprises, particularly in the provision of an outstanding website which is free to use while competitors must finance theirs through advertising or subscription.

The BBC should either be privatised so that you have to compete for your income or properly regulated. Its management should be cut in half and no ‘star’ paid more than £150k. If people leave so be it. The BBC has created more ‘stars’ in the past and it will do so again.

Your obedient servant

David Pearson

PS You may like to buy my new book Marketing for Good is Good Marketing, A year in the life of a Livery Company Master. It is based on the blogs I wrote as Master of the Worshipful Company of Marketors in 2016. You can order it via the books page of this website.

[i] Which makes this whole exercise somewhat pointless as obviously there are many other highly paid ‘stars’ who get their money through these vehicles, e.g. David Dimbleby.
[ii] What is wrong with the BBC? 16th November, 2012

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