Graham Norton’s cosy crime deal and thoughts on BBC pay…

I COULDN’T care less how much BBC presenters are paid, but I was miffed to discover that Graham Norton is publishing a crime novel.

Plenty of writers either struggle to make a living or struggle to even get a publishing deal. And here’s Graham with his new novel, Holding, described as story of “love, secrets and loss” centred around a small village in Ireland.

According to the Observer, his novel is part of a return in publishing to cosy crime – a term often used to embrace novels written in the spirt of Agatha Christie (not that Agatha was really all that cosy when you think of it). The paper reported that this new-old trend was a reaction against all those psychological thrillers with ‘Girl’ in the title.

Many writers will feel envious of the apparent ease with which Graham Norton has won a book deal. But publishing is a business, and Norton has a name that will sell, and if he’s half as good at writing as he is at presenting his chat show, then his novel will probably be worth a read.

Theresa May is quickly emerging as a prime minister who likes to play populist games by introducing policies in a distracting flourish. Pulling a grammar school policy out of an old Tory hat as a distraction from Brexit. Or making a foot-stomping show of standing firm against Chinese domination of British infrastructure by questioning their part in the Hinkley Point nuclear power station – and then saying, ‘Oh, go on then’ a few weeks later.

Forcing the BBC to publicly identify the pay of any employee paid more than £150,000 is another bit of pointless populism. This will force the BBC to reveal the pay of its on-air talent, including the likes of Graham Norton.

The BBC described these new rules as disappointing and a “massive headache”. They are also unfair in the sense that other broadcasters do not have to comply: in an open market such as broadcasting, why should only the BBC have to do this? Well, because it plays well in certain quarters, and Mrs May You Never is all too happy to bang a populist drum.

The prime minister didn’t make the announcement herself, but left that to her new culture secretary, Karen Bradley. Having never heard of the woman with the culture and media brief, I looked her up.

The MP for Staffordshire Moorlands is a former chartered accountant who has said she was inspired to go into politics by Michael Howard. The thought of anyone being inspired to do anything by Michael Howard is a surprise, so I suppose that counts as an interesting fact about Karen Bradley.

Other than that she is described as a May loyalist. Her interest in cultural matters seems a little thin, although she is a great fan of crime novels, once saying that she’d “read every Morse, Dalziel and Pascoe, Frost and Rebus that’s been printed”.

So that’s a point in her favour. Perhaps she will read the new Graham Norton too, if she can stop Mrs May tutting in her ear about how much he is paid.

BBC director general Tony Hall points out that as the BBC operates in a competitive market, this rule will “not make it easier for the BBC to retain the talent the public love”.  Well I am not sure I love Graham Norton, but I do rather like him, and that reaction to a well-paid BBC presenter is probably fairly normal.

The BBC is surely more transparent than many organisations, as it should be thanks to the licence fee, but forcing the corporation to operate under different rules to other broadcasters is petty-minded and unfair. It could also see cornered politicians picking on presenters about how much they are paid.

Perhaps if all businesses everywhere were forced to be open about everything, then this move on BBC pay would be fair. Until then it isn’t.

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