Ben Preston: Wickedly mischievous, flawlessly slick – in short, he's a huge loss

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Jonathan Ross's decision is a little moment of television history. The age of the Six Million Pound company man – and all those eye-watering deals tieing talent exclusively to one channel – is finally over.

There was a glorious symbolism when the news broke with a tweet. Even the biggest television celebrities can't escape the fallout of the digital explosion now. As audiences fragment across new channels and online, broadcasters can't afford exclusive contracts with the hottest talent any more.

Jonathan is a wickedly mischievous but slick chat show host, and, above all, an inspired radio presenter long regarded at the BBC as the natural heir to Terry Wogan – if only he'd ever been willing to get out of bed on weekdays.

The spectacle of Jonathan doling out mugs of tea to reporters over his garden gate yesterday like a disgraced Tory cabinet minister was bizarre. But politics did for him. He became an emblem of supposed BBC excess and hence a legitimate target in the guerrilla war waged by media barons and politicians against the licence fee.

In my view, Sachsgate was an appalling lapse of taste which put Ross in their cross-hairs. It's worth remembering that his doomed attempt to out-funny Russell Brand only drew four complaints from people who'd actually heard the show. But on the eighth day, The Mail on Sunday changed everything by breaking a story which triggered another 42,848 complaints, silenced Ross for three months – and has left the Corporation still grappling with the sclerotic consequences of the compliance culture that was imposed.

Jonathan will now be doing what thousands of other forty-something men are already doing in the recession: leaving the company where he's worked for years, and heading off to build a "portfolio career" instead, aka going freelance. He won't starve. And, if he wants to, he'll work more and earn more.

Ben Preston is the editor of Radio Times

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