Sunday, February 18, 2018


The story of Troy should bring you the aromas of ancient Turkey, not ancient turkey. The BBC/Netflix co-production, filmed on location in and around Capetown, drew an average audience of 3.21m to its first episode, a share of 18.3%. Hard Sun, in the same slot, started with 3.43m and finished with 1.61m.

Over on BBC2, "Imagine... Mel Brooks: Unwrapped" was watched by an average of 550k (4.2%). Editor, producer, director and presenter Alan Yentob also gave himself a credit for 'Additional Photography'. Cell-phone shots of his chicken meatballs with spaghetti in Carl Reiner's bedroom, I'm guessing.


Yesterday's fire on the B506 (Great Portland Street W1 to me and you) was a set-back for the developers of "17 Uncommon Apartments" (priced from £950k).

Darling Associates are the architects of 38 Langham Street; behind the charred scaffolding they may not yet have got to the work of interior designers, No. 12 Studio. The money comes from Altum Capital, a property investment company in Mayfair, and Great Marlborough Estates, run by Dean Clifford and Grant Lipton, along with Sir Stuart Lipton who is a non-exec. The building is Grade II listed.

Habituees of the nearby Yorkshire Grey will be hoping there's only minor impact to their hospitality; perhaps an additional smoky piquancy to their excellent pork scratchings....

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Tricky Tuesdays

Caroline Thomson, offered as a 'safe pair of hands' yet still thwarted in the race to be BBC DG in 2012, is struggling with her new crisis as Chair of Oxfam. Though most of the trouble happened well before her accession, in October last year, her organisation's response as been nearly as unsteady as the BBC's handling of the early stages of Savile.

Her first public statement on the matter, on Sunday 11th February, offered a seven-point plan of platitudinous promises in a press release - when DFID Secretary Penny Mordaunt went out on the front foot on The Andrew Marr show. In press interviews, Kevin Watkins, CEO of Save the Children, has come across as the leader with an organised, sector-wide response to the matter. The BBC's James Landale then found Oxfam's leadership in the USA, with a second new plan (anyone going to work on the salaries paid by the charity in the States ?). Yesterday, Oxfam CEO Mark Goldring seemed to have missed whatever training on crisis communications he's been offered, and told the Guardian attacks on his organisation "are out of proportion to the level of culpability".

So we now look forward to Tuesday at 1030 when both Caroline and Mark appear in front of the Commons Select Committee on International Development. Committee member Nigel Evans has already called for Goldring's resignation; Caroline Thomson has described Mr Goldring as "doing a brilliant job". 

Friday, February 16, 2018

I'm in charge

The 40-page judgement of the Tax Tribunal featuring HMRC versus Christa Ackroyd Media Ltd is a hoot. Christa was, until 2013, co-presenter of Look North from Leeds, having been poached from their ITV rival, Calendar back in 2001. In 2013, the BBC abruptly terminated her seven-year contract. HMRC says that CAM Ltd was liable for back income tax, equivalent to the amount Christa would have paid as a direct employee of the BBC. Ignorance of the law in these matters was no defence. Though most papers todaysuggest other BBC presenters will be trembling at the outcome of the tribunal, the Tribunal is not so sure. "We understand that the present appeal is one of a number of other appeals involving television presenters and personal service companies. However, this is not a lead case as such."

The findings offer a note about Christa's performance before the Tribunal. "Ms Ackroyd’s evidence did, we think, reflect the fact that she is more used to interviewing than being interviewed. It seemed to us that at various points in her cross-examination she was more concerned with understanding where the line of questioning was going than in giving direct answers to the questions being asked. We had to remind her to answer the questions being asked on several occasions. We do not consider that she was deliberately trying to evade difficult questions, but we did form the impression that she was keen to identify opportunities to present her case in the best light. She was clearly aware that cases such as this turn on value judgments as to the significance of various features, some pointing towards employment and some pointing towards self-employment. In her evidence she was keen to highlight those features which she considered would help her case, occasionally at the expense of directly answering the questions being asked."

There's then a long diversion about how much control Christa had at Look North - which her lawyers said should limit her liability. She clearly thought she edited large parts of the programme, selected her own stories, trained most of the staff, set up the studio, decided which shifts she would do, and much more. The Tribunal deemed this to be a red herring (but it's still a good read).

The Tribunal clearly found that the BBC pushed Christa towards the contract via a personal service company (something the BBC has sought to deny in many other fora).

"Ms Ackroyd’s evidence which we accept is that it was the BBC who suggested that she should work using a personal service company and that Ms Ackroyd agreed to do so. This contract and later the Contract were drafted and negotiated by the “Talent Rights Group” of the BBC rather than by BBC News. In 2001 CAM Ltd had already been incorporated by Ms Ackroyd and when the BBC suggested she should use a personal service company she decided to use CAM Ltd. The BBC did not want Ms Ackroyd to be an employee and we also infer that they did not want any potential liability for PAYE and national insurance if she were to be classified as an employee. Ms Ackroyd had never previously come across the term “personal service company”. She checked the terms of the arrangement with her accountant, Mr Biggin, who advised her that everything was in order.

Agents and others will be delighted that the full terms of Ms Ackroyd's contract are appended to the tribunal's findings, including the marvellous Clause H. Are there similar in other news presenters' contracts ?

"In addition the BBC agrees to make payment to the Company of Seven Thousand Five Hundred Pounds (£7,500) at the end of June and the end of December in each year of this Agreement SUBJECT TO the programming of the Broadcaster consistently and significantly exceeding the ratings of its commercial competition (in the opinion of the BBC) over the relevant preceding Six Month period."

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Down under

The HR Leaders Forum in Sydney next week will end with a bang. And a spelling mistake. And kisses.

Women's movement

Two top BBC women heading to Channel 4 in one day. Louisa Compton, co-creator of the Victoria Derbyshire show, and believed to have been a candidate for the Newsnight editorship, seems to have had the job of Editor, Dispatches up her sleeve, forming part of Ian Katz' new team.  And Liliane Landor, who rather mysteriously and abruptly left BBC World Service just as huge inflows of cash were arriving, gets back to foreign news with the C4 News team with Ben de Pear.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Out and about

Tom Jones and Alan Yentob chatting away at the Hay Festival auction dinner in Battersea earlier this week. Amol Rajan was on another table.

I'm free

I keep seeing soft-glow flashes of Fiona Bruce's chiselled features in the trails for ITV's Crime and Punishment series, where apparently she is to present a show, alongside other talents such as Piers Morgan, Trevor MacDonald, Susanna Reid and Ross Kemp.

What can have attracted Fiona to this not-at-all-exploitative strand ? She's on somewhere between £350k and £399,999k at Auntie, for some light news presenting, the Antiques Roadshow and Fake or Fortune. The papers believe she's moved from a personal service company back to BBC staff member. Why would Auntie let her freelance - or has Auntie offended her in someway so that she wants to freelance ?

Or else

In a world where more of us are watching programmes online, either streamed or on demand, the BBC is super-pleased with the iPlayer, but very worried that little boxes hanging off your telly, or subscriptions to Amazon Prime and Netflix, might distract viewers from its most excellent content.

Auntie spent much of the last part of the last century demanding prime position on Electronic Programme Guides offered to Sky and Virgin subscribers. Now it's concerned that, if your little box or dongle offers you a route to BBC content, it needs to be prominent and branded on the box or dongle's landing page. 

So it has started a consultation, which leads you to a Distribution Strategy Document of 15 pages, but one message....

"The BBC considers that, in the light of its duties under the Charter and Agreement, and to showcase British content, BBC content and services should be prominently positioned within platforms’ user interfaces so as to be easily found by licence fee payers. Unlike linear channels within an EPG, neither the prominence of on-demand content and services nor the prominence of the linear EPG are currently regulated, and so the BBC engages in bilateral negotiations with platforms to agree a fair and appropriate positioning. The BBC seeks to achieve prominence in line with what audiences expect12, and in ways that are consistent with the discovery mechanisms a platform seeks to deploy. Where a third party platform will not offer fair and appropriate prominence so that it no longer meets the BBC’s conditions of distribution, the BBC may accordingly no longer support BBC iPlayer or withdraw it from that platform."

Tuesday, February 13, 2018


9pm on BBC1 and BBC2 last night seemed to be the wrong way round. Heavily-trailed pure British drama Collateral, on BBC2, returned an average audience of 3.26m - a 15.6% share of the available audience. Julius Caesar Revealed by Mary Beard, on BBC2, got 1.96m, a 9.5% share.

One might surmise that David Hare's political thriller has twists to come that will irritate the columnists of The Daily Mail - his tv offerings usually do.

Other people who read this.......