Saturday 14 November 2009
Richard Ingrams's Week: Lots of money for BBC staff, less for its contributors
MPs should be grateful to the BBC for revealing this week full details of the pay and expenses of all their senior executives.
The massive salaries and perks of men and women you've never heard of and never will again make the MPs' £64,000 per annum look positively public spirited, even if some of them may be trying to make it up a bit with their expenses claims.
It's when someone like Director General Mark Thompson, earning an extraordinary £664,000, puts in a claim of 70p for a parking charge that the true nature of this scandal comes home. Couldn't he afford to pay out of his own pocket? Apparently not.
It's worth bearing in mind, too, just how lax the BBC has become about paying those who contribute to its programmes.
There was a time when the corporation was extraordinarily scrupulous about paying even for the most insignificant broadcasts. A brief appearance on a radio programme would be rewarded with a fee – albeit not a very large one – agreed by both parties beforehand in a signed contract.
Nowadays the BBC will do everything possible to avoid payment if they can get away with it. In my own case, I may be told that if I appear on radio or television I am getting valuable publicity and that this in itself should be considered to be sufficient reward.
I make a point of asking beforehand if I will be paid for taking part in any BBC programme. If the answer is no then I refuse to appear. This week's revelation about the scandalous payments and perks of the senior executives will only strengthen my resolve.
Another strange death, another grieving parent
Helen Smith was finally cremated this week and her ashes scattered on Ilkley moor. It was 30 years since the young nurse died, supposedly after falling off a balcony in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, during a party given by hospital surgeon Richard Arnot and his wife Penny.
It was a Private Eye journalist, Jack Lundin, who first reported the single-handed crusade by her father Ron Smith, a former policeman and self-styled "cantankerous bastard", to discover the true circumstances of her death. In spite of the determination of the Foreign Office to cover the whole thing up, Ron Smith, with the help of Paul Foot, eventually succeeded in forcing the authorities to order an inquest, which was held in Leeds in 1982. The jury finally returned an open verdict and the true story of what happened on that night will almost certainly never be known.
Coincidentally a strangely similar story is unravelling in contemporary Britain, but this time it is a bereaved mother, Sheila Blanco, who is fighting on behalf of her son Mark who, like Helen Smith, met his death in December 2006 after allegedly falling off a balcony in suspicious circumstances.
Mark Blanco was a young actor who got into a scrap with pop singer Pete Doherty and his associate Paul Roundhill at the latter's Whitechapel flat. Mark was later found dying on the pavement 30ft below the balcony. CCTV film showed Doherty with his girlfriend stepping round the body as he went on his way to a party.
As in the case of Helen Smith there are a number of unanswered questions. What happened to Mark's watch and cufflinks? A neurobiologist has asserted that Mark's injuries were inconsistent with a fall, and in the meantime Sheila Blanco is to host a press conference early next month prior to Pete Doherty's latest UK tour. Let's hope she has more success with her campaign than Ron Smith.
Perils of getting too close to The Sun
It seemed a little rich for Lord Mandelson to criticise David Cameron's Tories for getting into bed with Rupert Murdoch. In their day, he and his friend Tony Blair did everything short of falling on their knees before the great media mogul to secure the support of his downmarket newspapers for New Labour. Blair even agreed to fly all the way to Australia in 1995 to make a bland and reassuring speech to the assembled executives of News International.
As for Mandelson, it was Murdoch himself who is supposed to have remarked at the time that he was quite "easy" because he was "a star-fucker".
Gordon Brown is perhaps not in the same kind of league as Lord Mandelson so far as that sort of thing is concerned, but even he has compromised himself by crawling to Murdoch, his henchmen and henchwomen. In June this year Rebekah Brooks, recently retired editor of The Sun, got married to racehorse trainer Charlie Brooks. Brown interrupted his busy schedule to travel to the Brooks estate at Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire to mingle with a motley gang of champagne-swilling journalists and B-list celebrities like Jeremy Clarkson – albeit for only half an hour or so.
Much good did it do him, now that Murdoch has decided that the Tories are likely to win the next election and therefore instructed The Sun to put the boot into Brown. The irony was that the boot was so crudely inserted. Brown was attacked for his bad handwriting and for not bowing his head at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday, resulting in an immediate wave of sympathy for him, the first in months.
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