The BBC's Jeremy Paxman has just published a book called Empire to accompany his forthcoming BBC1 five-part series on the British Empire. His colleague Andrew Marr will soon publish a tome called Diamond Jubilee in anticipation of the BBC1 series which he will present next year to mark the celebration of the Queen's 60 years on the throne.
Let me say that my journalistic admiration for both these gentlemen knows few bounds. Mr Paxman is the foremost television interviewer of our age. Mr Marr (a former editor of this newspaper, as it happens) is a very gifted political journalist. But I can't help wondering whether either of them is the most suitable person in the world to introduce their respective series. Paxo is not a recognised authority on the British Empire, and Mr Marr is not a modern historian.
There was a time when the BBC looked for genuine experts, rather than seasoned broadcasters, to present blockbuster historical or cultural programmes. Kenneth Clark's memorable series Civilisation, broadcast on BBC2 in 1969, is perhaps the best example. Now the trend is to seek out fashionable "media dons" or, worse still, the Corporation's own star journalists eager for extra work to supplement their bread-and-butter income, not to mention opportunities for travel. The inevitable consequence is dumbing down.
In part, the BBC hopes to attract larger audiences by putting familiar faces, rather than authoritative voices, in front of us. A good example could be found last night on BBC1, where the newsreader Fiona Bruce introduced a programme on Leonardo Da Vinci, about whom she is far from being an acknowledged expert.
But there is an additional explanation which certainly applies in the case of Mr Marr and Mr Paxman – to find the BBC and their presenters more money. Apart from a fee from the BBC, there are enormous book sales on the back of primetime TV series, which help enrich the presenters.
As I say, these two journalists are clever and plausible, and many viewers may not feel short-changed. Perhaps the BBC should be congratulated for running such programmes at all. But I remain perturbed by this lazy habit of offering lucrative supplementary jobs for the boys, or girls, rather than searching out the best person available. There are, after all, plenty of instances of non-professional broadcasters adapting well to the screen, the late Lord Clark being one. If we would not dream of asking the likes of him to read the news, or interview politicians, why should we expect Paxo or Mr Marr to slip into clothes in which they do not truly belong?
Since when was cutting costs worthy of reward?
David Carr, the star of Page One, the documentary about The New York Times, wrote a splendid piece in his paper last week wondering why protesters angry about enormous bonuses do not think of occupying newsrooms. He cited the example of Craig A. Dubow, who recently resigned as chief executive of the American publisher Gannett, which owns regional newspapers in this country.
Despite Mr Dubow having presided over a collapse in the company share price, and being responsible for reducing its workforce by 40 per cent, he left with a package of $37m. Mr Carr also mentioned The Tribune Company, which is showering senior executives with bonuses while sacking thousands of employees.
Thank God we don't have examples in this country of newspaper executives, whose only talent is knowing how to cut costs, being similarly rewarded. Or do we? Sly Bailey, chief executive of Trinity Mirror, has also presided over a collapse in her company's share price while getting rid of thousands of workers at its regional and national titles. Last year she earned nearly £1.7m, including a bonus of £660,000. Being proficient at sacking people should not entitle one to huge rewards. I have no objections if creative people at profitable newspaper groups are highly paid. It is the less creative ones at declining companies that I worry about.
Will the real Henry Porter please get in touch
I was pleased to re-read in the "From The Archive" column in yesterday's Sunday Times the wonderful interview Henry Porter did in 1985 with the actress Meryl Streep. In fact, unbeknown to Henry, a reporter called Nicola Scicluna was posing as Streep. She had been put up to it by a rival paper anxious to embarrass Henry.
And yet, as the happy memory faded, I began to grow anxious about my old friend. Where is he? Could it be that, just as someone impersonated Meryl Streep all those years ago, someone is now impersonating him?
Earlier this year a person posing as Henry posted some disobliging online comments at the end of an article I had written. Then, at Private Eye's 50th birthday party last Wednesday, someone looking very like Henry passed and apparently snubbed me! Obviously the real version would never behave in such a way.
I am now worried as to the whereabouts of the original Henry. Might this be an extreme example of identity theft? If the real Henry Porter will contact me, I'd like to take him out to lunch, having of course first established that he is the genuine article.