The BBC, already confused and muddled, is showing affecting signs of delirium.
Why else should it have appointed a controller of talent on a reported salary of £75,000 a year to groom and primp the egos of its “stars”? This unenviable task has fallen to Rob Warr, 43, whose suitability is unquestioned since he has had the misfortune in an earlier career to mix with the infantile and solipsistic riff-raff who comprise rock bands.
Reports of his appointment were entertaining since they variously described the defection of BBC celebrities Des Lynam, Noel Edmonds and Barry Norman as a “mass exodus” and a “flood”. Delirium indeed.
It is not yet clear how Mr Warr will set about fulfilling his role of halting a further haemorrhaging of three or, heaven forbid, a mass flight of two, but early reports suggest he will be setting up “face-to-face meetings, lunches and parties” for a “talent forum”, a hallucinatory form of words conjured in the fevered mind to describe the rag-bag of celebrities who appear all over our screens like a rash.
Executives will hold “talent meetings”, where Warr will promote key people’s interests and act as medium for discussion or complaint. There will also be “special cocktail parties where executives can meet stars with their producers and writers and ensure they are happy in their role”.
It would be worth the price of the licence fee to be in on one of those parties. A fusion of massive egotism and strong drink ignited by the presence of executives with a brief to fawn is calculated to produce such monstrous displays of self-importance and such outpourings of unctuous flattery that the onlooker would have a privileged and fearful glimpse into the inner circle of hell.
In appointing Mr Warr and encouraging him to array pygmies in the garlands of giants, the BBC is breaking faith with the last policy of which it should be proud. According to one “major agent”, “The BBC still lets the contracts of some of its household names expire without bothering to respond to attempts to negotiate new deals and make the stars feel wanted.”
That is exactly how it should be. The BBC is – or was – bigger than all those thousand mediocrities who owe their entire good fortune, fleeting fame, and riches to its benevolence. In most cases without the exposure they receive courtesy of the corporation they would be nonentities. In a properly ordered world it would be the duty of the BBC to return them to obscurity before they suffered the permanent psychological harm that results from huge and unmerited fame.
Amazingly, after more than 50 years in which television has permeated our lives to a degree unimagined by its pioneers, it is still not sufficiently understood that it is a medium of unsurpassed superficiality and ephemerality. What is said on TV is half understood, often unheard and quickly forgotten. Anyone could say it. What makes the celebrities of passing interest is their visual content – their hairstyles, the colour of their eyes, the set of their mouth, the evenness and whiteness of their teeth, their mannerisms, their dress, their way of speaking, their sex appeal or otherwise.
It follows that, just as you weary of the same old soft furnishings, you quickly become bored of scrutinising the same old set of features in the same old faces. We cry out for change. Show us something different. Dear God, please, please, please, no more Carol Smillie, no more Angus Deayton, Ainsley Harriott, Carol Vorderman, Alan Titchmarsh, Clive Anderson, Anthony Worrall-Thompson. The departure of Noel Edmonds, though a gift from heaven to compare with deliverance from evil, was not enough. It gave us the taste for more.
Just how far the BBC is wide of the mark is illustrated by a spokesman commenting on the way in which he hopes the new ego-conservation policy will work. “We might have a situation where a highly-rated presenter such as Jamie Theakston wants to try a programme in a different field, say sport. It would be Rob’s job to broker that.”
That is precisely what is so irritating about TV now. The same, already overexposed and thoroughly examined faces keep popping up all over the place. Like the proverbial cheap suit, they are never off your back.
It is not as though “talent” were rare. Universities, drama schools, theatre companies, gardening clubs, restaurant kitchens, and HM prisons are bursting with monstrous egos who would sell their souls to appear on TV. All that is required of a presenter is that he or she sober should have the self-confidence, volubility, lack of inhibition, and desire to show off that the rest of us have only when drunk.
In one sense Mr Warr is fortunate. If he is to perform a service to broadcasting, it lies in his willingness and ability to treat his new appointment as a well-paid sinecure requiring nothing more than the imaginative deployment of an expense account. There is no need to meet the ghastly stars at all. Shunned by a Controller of Talent, they would surely depart, making way for fresh faces for the public to take in at a blink before attending to more important matters, such as putting on the kettle, painting the toe nails, or slipping into a deep untroubled sleep.