A creative account of television

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I AM delighted to announce that I have secured the services of the famous freelance television consultant John Birt, who has agreed (for a consideration]) to place his experience at your disposal.

For a while, Mr Birt was the freelance consultant in charge of programmes at LWT, and more recently he has been part-time consultant-general of the BBC, where his job has been to consult Marmaduke Hussey about what Mr Hussey wants done next. Mr Birt has made room in his busy part-time life to answer your many questions about today's television. All yours, John]

I was watching 'A Year in Provence' on Sunday, in which John Thaw plays the part of Peter Mayle as a writer going to the south of France. There was a very interesting scene in which Mr Mayle says, in voice-over, that he is now going to start his novel, and we see him sitting down at a word processor, and sharpening a pencil] What kind of a writer would use both methods at the same time?

John Birt writes: A writer who was well advised by his accountant, that's who. Presumably, before he went out to France, Peter Mayle had registered himself as a private company. Perhaps, after the success of his Wicked Willie books, he already was a company (Mayle Chauvinist Ltd, perhaps]).

Anyway, once you have a company, it makes sense to get as much tax-deductible stuff as possible. So you don't just buy a pen to write with, or a typewriter - you also buy a word processor, etc. Then you can claim it all as expenses. Incidentally, if the taxman should query any or all of it, Mr Mayle can then point to this television series as actual documentary evidence that it was all being used.

That is why we saw him using the processor and the pencil at the same time]

To help you with the ins and outs of creative consultancy tax problems, I am sending you a copy of my pamphlet, 'A Man is Known by the Company That Keeps Him'.

I was watching the same Peter Mayle programme on Sunday and couldn't help noticing that, although we were told it was January and fiercely cold, Mr Thaw/ Mayle had a good sun-tan. More interestingly, we were shown Mr Thaw/Mayle hurrying across the street to a boulangerie, and he passed by a plane tree that was in full green leaf. Now, planes lose their leaves long before January, and they are one of the last trees to turn green again. So I wonder if you can explain how we saw a green plane tree in Provence in January?

John Birt writes: Without knowing the full facts of the case, or indeed any of them, I imagine that the programme was made by an outside company that owned a plane tree which it wished to claim against tax in some way. However, as you know, I hate speculating and prefer to rely on hard facts, so I will pass your inquiry across to my new Controller of BBC 1, Alan Yentob. I am sure he will get back to you on this very interesting question.

What about the sun-tan?

John Birt writes: Oh, do you like it? Thanks] I got it at Lucknam Park last year. I turned it into a small subsidiary company at the time, so that I can claim all the maintenance of it against tax.

No, not yours - John Thaw's sun-tan.

John Birt writes: I have no information on John Thaw's sun-tan. I imagine Mr Thaw has a private arrangement with the Inland Revenue about it.

The Alan Yentob you recently put in charge of BBC 1, is this the same Alan Yentob who wiped a whole evening's viewing from BBC 2 to fulfil a passing urge to screen an obscure Verdi opera?

John Birt writes: Yes, I believe it is.

Does Mr Yentob have any companies with an interest in opera?

John Birt writes: I don't know. I hadn't thought of that. I'll have a look into it. If he hasn't, I'll pass on your suggestion to him. Thanks.

Incidentally, what persuaded you to appoint Alan Yentob as BBC 1 supremo with a watching brief on BBC 2? If you are Mr Hussey's man and Mr Yentob is your man, isn't this much too much like a private empire? You might as well have Mr Yentob turned into a private company of your own and have done with it]

John Birt writes: You're absolutely right] Why didn't I think of that before?

(If you want your television queries answered, write to me and I'll pass them on. Mark your envelope, 'Att. BBC - Birt Broadcasting Consultancy.')