AT THE risk of flirting with professional controversialism, I must begin today with a word of support for the BBC hierarchy, as led by chairman Michael Grade and director-general Mark Thompson. These fierce protectors of the public service ethos come under heavy fire over the salary packages enjoyed by themselves and senior colleagues, and the carping from within the Beeb is tasteless and disloyal.
"Let me be very, very clear," Mr Grade told the Culture select committee (and frankly a third very, if not a fourth, was indicated), referring to the need for tip-top management in these times of change at the Beeb: "We have to be able to attract and retain those leaders."
Well said. When the BBC is poised to sack another 2,000 people, it is absolutely right that those responsible follow the example of the Emperor Tiberius, a military leader famed for enduring the same privations as his troops. Mr Thompson restricts his package to a risible £619,000, while his deputy Mark Byford must be tempted to ring Ocean Finance on an annual income just below £500,000... sorry, I'm welling up. And to think some must get by on barely half that.
The ingratitude of foot soldiers who will vote shortly on a strike beggars belief. They've been offered a 2.6 per cent rise, which works out pro rata as almost identical to the 30 per cent hike in executive pay over the last two years, and may come close to compensating them for pension scheme changes. So when the chairman insists that nothing matters more in these unstable days than "leadership of the very highest quality", let's for once drop the snide sarcasm and simply say how true this is. Or rather, as Mr Grade himself might style it, how very, very true.
IN THE Daily Mail, a stout supporter of Mr Grade in his old role as pornographer-in-chief addresses the news that sperm can be artificially produced. As always when analysing the most finely balanced issues, Melanie Phillips ruthlessly seeks out cool detachment. "The rest of us might wonder whether he is sounding the death knell for fatherhood altogether," mused Mad Mel of the scientist involved, "and, more to the point, threatening the very basis of what it is to be human." Nimbly avoiding the traps of appearing simplistic and hysterical is a gift, Mad Mel, no doubt about that. But surely sometimes the equivocation has to stop?
ELSEWHERE IN the Mail, the woman of whom it is often said that, if anything, she cares too much reports on further problems on the roads. Last time it was a heart-rending account of how she was punished by a policeman for failing to stop at a pedestrian crossing - and once again Esther Rantzen finds her faith in the police dented, as indeed was the wing of her car after a scrap with another driver over a parking space.
I won't delight you with too many details from Esther's report, not least because I've lacked the strength to get beyond the fifth paragraph, but the gist seems to be that officers obliged the old girl to go through the usual procedures that follow an accident. Do these uniformed oafs have no idea who Esther is, or rather who Esther used to be before she took to advertising ambulance-chasing law firms of the kind that seek to make capital out of trivial traffic accidents of no interest to anyone not directly involved?
I'M IN a spot of road-related bother with the law myself, after being grassed up by a reader. At the risk of repeating the original offence, the contentious sentence, in a comment piece about parking tickets, went as follows: "When every pay and display machine within a 500-yard radius is broken, what we should do is take an axe to the bastards and throw them through the windscreens of any unattended tow-trucks in the vicinity."
A PC John Wright informs a colleague that he is investigating whether a charge of incitement might be brought. Although it seems unlikely, until he rings with the all-clear I refuse to tempt fate. PC Wright works in one of those tranquil, peaceable parts of the country, by the way, in which the dearth of drugs and violent crime frees officers for graver matters. He is stationed in Moss Side.
WITH ESTHER and myself unhappily yoked together as objects of police interest, it's time to look on the bright side of constabulary life... and how better than with The Sun's Police Bravery Awards?
The ceremony, presided over by that loveable scamp "Dr" John Reid, was a triumph, but there was one mystification - the failure to honour the south London officers who last autumn went to the aid of an actor, one Ross Wade, after he called 999 under attack from his wife (she was held in the cells until sobering up the next morning). God knows why these officers' ordeal was overlooked, but they'll always be heroes to us.
FINALLY, TO another very brave person, Mary Ann Sieghart, who despite the post-traumatic stress continues to dwell on a bee sting to the foot. "I know, I know, the subject... is a fairly trivial one to write about two weeks in a row," observed Mary Ann, writing about it in The Times for the third week in a row. "But do you know, I received so many e-mails about it that at least some of you must be interested."
Some of us? There's not a soul who's not captivated. Show yet more courage, girl, and plough on. As I said last week, there's a cracking book in this.