Yesterday P D James, the 89-year-old crime writer, attempted to bring some of the order she applies to her plots to BBC finances by giving its Director General a grilling on his own flagship news programme “Today”. Lady James, who is actually a Conservative peer and a one time member of the BBC Board of Governors, was a guest editor on the Radio 4 morning news magazine. She interviewed Mark Thompson in a way that perhaps no one employed by him would have dared.
She started by criticising the huge salaries that some BBC executives get. 375 employees earn over £100,000 per annum, a tenth of these earning more than the Prime Minister.
Mr Thompson insisted that high salaries were essential to prevent defections to the private sector. He said that the controller of BBC One had a £1 billion annual budget, underlining the importance of getting “the very best person doing that job”. However Lady James was having none of that. Where, she asked, in the private sector would these people get better money? When Mr Thompson said that they might go to ITV she laughed at the suggestion, pointing out that ITV was cutting both positions and salaries.
Well done P D James. How many times have highly paid people defended their immense salaries by saying that they could earn more if they worked in the private sector? Please! If someone cares about money and could earn more in the public sector then that is where they would be. Not one of these BBC managers is doing us a huge favour by working for a pittance with the public service broadcaster.
The other matter in which Lady James went for the jugular was the duplication of managers’ tasks: “You have a director of marketing, communications and audiences who gets over £300,000, then there is a director of communications. One wonders what actually is going on here.”
Mr Thompson said that bureaucracy was a “real issue”, adding: “One of the things we’re looking at is whether we can make an auditable commitment to how much of the licence fee we can spend on content.”
Describing the corporation as a “large unwieldy ship” that was “bringing more and more cargo”, Lady James said that the BBC had changed for the worse since its inception in the 1920s. She told Mr Thompson that some BBC programming was indistinguishable from commercial equivalents.
Again I couldn’t agree more. The people in higher middle management in the BBC seem to have the most amazing jobs with fantastic conditions, salaries and pensions of unbelievable size, all of which they get from us, the public. Hopefully Mark Thompson will be as good as his word with regard to this.
P D James has risen immeasurably in my book. I rarely heard so much good solid common sense spoken in such a short time.
(Just an interesting little afterthought: P D James is one of the country’s best known, and much loved mystery writers, and sits as a Conservative peer in the House of Lords. Ruth Rendell is of equal rank in the murder mystery stakes, also much loved, and sits as a Labour peer.)