The BBC has been pleading poverty just recently – or, if not poverty exactly, then straitened circumstances. "It's extremely hard now to fill senior jobs at the BBC ... increasingly remuneration is a factor," said Mark Thompson, appearing before the Lords' communications select committee last week to complain that his chequebook has lost some of its former heft when it comes to recruitment. And then Danny Cohen, BBC One's new controller, echoed the thought: "We have already lost people to Channel 4," he told an Observer journalist, "... talent who we couldn't compete with the deals for."
And while some of this is undoubtedly public relations (if they don't groan loudly then there's a danger that hostile politicians will think they're not in enough pain yet) there is a truth to it too. The salary ratchet has reversed its operation in a lot of areas, so that what people get paid can fall but is very unlikely, for the moment at least, to move in the opposite direction.
In the interests of full disclosure I should reveal that I have a more than theoretical interest in this question. As the presenter of a Radio Four programme I know that – whatever inflation has been doing – there's no upward give at all when it comes to payments. But while, as an employee, I'd quite like to get my hands on a bit more of the licence fee, as a licence-fee payer I'm inclined to think that this fiscal discipline may be a good thing for the BBC rather than a bad one. And that's not just because my (and your) money will go a bit further but because – far more importantly – raw cash will have to be replaced by other kinds of incentives when it comes to attracting talent in future.
There's never been a good excuse for stratospheric executive pay. The BBC is a public service and the lustre it adds to a CV should be itemised on the monthly salary slip. With performers – where the prospects of aggressive poaching are far greater – things are a little more complicated. But even here you can argue that the BBC is able to offer ambitious and talented artists a unique deal precisely because they operate alongside the market rather than squarely in it. They can take risks with novelty – and they can offer a committment to an idea that takes time to establish itself which would be very difficult in a more mercenary environment.
Money is the dumbest solution, in short. There's no ingenuity in adding a nought to a contractual offer, no pressure to make a sense of achievement part of the package, less drive for the intangible compensations of collegiate kudos and public praise. And if money is really tight, those types of incentive may get a little more attention paid to them – with positive results for what we see on screen. Because it is a public service organisation, the BBC can do what ITV cannot. It can get poorer and richer simultaneously.
Henry's forgotten use of Brut force
I can't add anything to the pugilistic tributes to Sir Henry Cooper – a very British hero in that he was remembered as much for a plucky defeat as for any of his many victories. But he shouldn't pass without a brief word of praise for his services to domestic metrosexuality. When I saw the reports of his death, the Proustian reflex didn't summon the smack of glove on torso or the clang of the round bell but the pungent fragrance of Brut, the aftershave which Cooper helped to pitch to men in the mid-Seventies. Like countless other teenage boys my first aftershave – acquired at an age when there was no shave for it to come after – was Brut. There was barely any other choice – with the result that you could virtually see the fumes of Brut around the dancers at a school disco, coiling like a Dartmoor mist.
And though there had been other male fragrances before (dads tended to smell of Old Spice, if they smelled of anything) the almost hysterical machismo of the Brut campaign – in which Our 'Enry stood in a locker room and encouraged us to "splash it on all over" – helped shatter a broader male suspicion of fragrances as essentially effeminate. Through that breach rolled a wave of scruffing lotions, hair gels, shave balms, face scrubs and male moisturisers. Not sure whether it counts as a win or a loss, but it should be noted on the final scorecard.
OBL and the 19th century Great Game
Curiosity about the name of Osama Bin Laden's last known address revealed that Abbottabad had a connection to an earlier chapter of the Great Game.
It was named after an officer called James Abbott who served with the British army in Afghanistan in 1838, and then went on to become the commissioner of Hazara, during which he conducted peacekeeping operations against the Afghan and Sikh forces.
He seems to have been sympathetic enough to local culture to have himself portrayed in costume as an Indian nobleman – and fond enough of Abbottabad to write a poetic lament on his departure, a terrible piece of doggerel which can be found inscribed on a memorial in one of the town's parks.
"I bid you farewell with a heavy heart/ Never from my mind will your memories thwart," it concludes.
I suspect American special forces – anonymous – may prove more successful in putting it on the map than the versifying British major who gave it its name.