In the Noughties it was a winning TV formula: find some endangered old buildings, pay a big name to campaign on their behalf, and get the public to decide which one to save. Now the BBC is resurrecting Restoration, only this time, in tune with the age of thrift, the celebrity figurehead has been left out in the cold.
Griff Rhys Jones, the comedian who made his name as one half of Smith and Jones, will not be presenting the BBC's next flagship heritage series, which has already begun filming. He has been replaced by three lesser-known presenters, believed to be experts from the fields of architecture and history. The revelation follows last week's announcement by presenter Jonathan Ross that he will cease working for the BBC in July, when his £18m contract ends.
Last night a BBC spokesman was keen to play down suggestions Rhys Jones had been dropped because of cost, saying the new programme would be different from Restoration, and "may have a different name". But he confirmed that the working title remains Restoration and that it is being made by Endemol, the company behind the first three series. The series editor is also the same. Rhys Jones declined to comment, but his agent said: "Griff doesn't have a contract with the BBC so it isn't a matter or having it renewed or not."
The revelation comes in the wake of sustained criticism of the BBC over the inflated salaries of its presenters. Speaking on BBC 2's Newsnight following the announcement of Ross's departure, Alan Yentob, the BBC creative director, said: "We're going through difficult times. Most people believe a sacrifice has to be made, so it is going on, but I don't think it needs legislation to ensure that it does." Asked if there was going to be "a lot more of people working for less", Yentob replied "I think there is actually."
Since the recession began, anger over the BBC's use of the licence fee has grown, with the telephone-number salaries of newsreaders and executives drawing most criticism. Several TV and radio presenters have agreed to pay cuts in recent months, including Graham Norton, Chris Moyles and Bruce Forsyth. But others, such as Top Gear's Jeremy Clarkson and Newsnight anchor Jeremy Paxman are said to have resisted the moves. Although the BBC refuses to disclose how much it pays its talent, Paxman is widely believed to earn £1m a year for his work on Newsnight and University Challenge, while Clarkson's deal is worth an estimated £2m. Newsreader Fiona Bruce, who also presents Antiques Roadshow, poured scorn on the multimillion-pound earning of her colleagues, while refuses to discuss rumours that she earns between £400,00 and £500,000.
Novelist P D James recently used her guest editorship of the Radio 4's Today programme to grill director-general Mark Thompson over his £800,000 salary, and likened the BBC to "a large and unwieldy ship".
It is unknown how much Rhys Jones was paid to present Restoration, but losing the job is bound to be a blow: last year he disclosed he had lost a large sum of money in a hedge fund following the collapse of Lehman Brothers.
A BBC spokesman said: "Griff is a very talented presenter. But if you're saying he is the only person who can present a heritage programme I have to disagree. We're not trying to make a cheaper version of Restoration."
Rhys Jones continues to work on other BBC projects, including Rivers, a series in which he explores hidden waterways. Angler Charles Rangeley-Wilson claims he pitched the idea to the BBC some time ago but that the show was made with Rhys Jones, a more famous name.