David Lister: So, was Jonathan Ross worth it?

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The Independent Online

Much hangs on how quickly Jonathan Ross is offered another job, or indeed whether he is offered one at all. Since announcing that he was leaving the BBC some weeks ago, no firm offer has been made to him and reported negotiations with Channel 4 for a show seem to have stalled.

Much hangs on all this, because the BBC's justification of its absurdly high salaries for stars and executives is that it is operating in a marketplace, and if it did not pay said absurdly high salaries, other channels would rush in to snap up the "talent".

I have always been doubtful of this, and longed for some of these stars and execs to be thrust into the marketplace so that we could see who exactly did come rushing in with job offers. In Jonathan Ross's case, there has not exactly been a stampede, and he is the highest paid of them all. Yet this highly dubious citing of the market has been both the excuse for the huge amounts of public money paid in salaries, and for the secrecy over the amounts.

This week the corporation was rightly taken to task over the secrecy aspect. A committee of MPs criticised the BBC for entering into confidentiality agreements with on-screen stars, saying that the corporation was putting public money beyond the scrutiny of Parliament. The House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts also said: "It beggars belief that the BBC Trust refuses to provide, or attaches strings to, information required by the committee to examine the BBC's use of public money."

It's disgraceful that the BBC pays the excessive salaries from public money and keeps them secret on a very dubious rationale. But let's not just single out the BBC. Other institution use public money to pay talent, and they too keep it secret. What does the Royal Opera House pay its visiting stars from public money? I suspect that a Jonathan Ross-sized tremor would shock the nation if it came clean on this. What does the National Theatre pay? Here too there would be a shock, though in this case it would be a shock at how low the pay was.

Sir Richard Eyre, a former head of the National, mentioned this week that the theatre's fee for a director of a play was £14,000 for about 12 weeks work. This isn't a huge sum for one of the greatest arts institutions in the world. Sir Richard once told me that when Dame Judi Dench was acting at the National, she earned "less than a journalist". His tone suggested that this was a cataclysmic upset to the natural order of things, and famine and fire would surely follow. Fortunately Dame Judi's screen assignments take her well beyond Fleet Street pay rates.

Payments made out of public money, or at least the broad pay scales, should be a matter of public record. That way Parliament could judge whether institutions were giving value for money. We could have a proper, informed debate on whether we really wanted a subsidised opera house to cave in to the inflated demands of singers. And we could campaign for more subsidy for our theatres to give actors, directors and backstage staff a more realistic wage. Transparency brings winners as well as losers.

A new England in South Africa

That fine actress Rosamund Pike is to star in a remake of the film Women in Love. I'm looking forward to that as Rosamund Pike, a scene stealer in the film An Education and more recently an acclaimed Hedda Gabler on stage in a touring production, is a real talent. Lawrence's book was last filmed, famously, in 1969 by Ken Russell and starred Glenda Jackson, Oliver Reed and Alan Bates. Ken Russell shot his movie in Derbyshire. The new version is to be made in South Africa, where an English mining village will be re-created.

If the politicians about to take to the hustings want a graphic example of the decline in Britain's traditional industries, then here it is. To make a film about an English mining village, you have to take your British cast and crew to South Africa and build one from scratch.

How to make a drama out of a blunder

A number of people have commented that Labour scored an own goal with its poster of David Cameron as DCI Gene Hunt from Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes, implying that the Conservative leader was taking Britain back to the 1980s. As has been pointed out, DCI Hunt, despite his political incorrectness and macho manner, or perhaps because of them, has become one of the most popular and attractive characters on TV.

But for me the crass mistake goes further than an inappropriate choice of character. It demonstrates depressingly how politicians just don't get drama. In politics, life is black or white, policies good or bad. In drama, characters are complex; the unattractive can be attractive, and people are an amalgam of virtues and vices just as in real life. Watching the Miliband brothers on television desperately trying to justify their party's poster, I was glad only that neither of them was Secretary of State for Culture.