Cable repeat fees criminally low, claims Briers

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Actor Richard Briers has criticised the fee paid by cable channels for repeats of classic sitcoms, including seventies favourite The Good Life, saying it is tantamount to "legalised theft".

The popular show, which starred Briers alongside Felicity Kendal, Penelope Keith and the late Paul Eddington, is currently being re-run on UK Gold in addition to BBC2.

He said: "It's fine when they show The Good Life on BBC2 but on cable TV it is nothing more than legalised theft. The BBC pay me a reasonable enough repeat fee. But the cable people - well, they signed an agreement so many years ago giving us a flat fee of about £100 quid, claiming that they only had minuscule audiences and that they couldn't afford to pay us anything appreciable.

"Next thing you know, they're getting millions of people a week and we're not getting a single penny more. Take off the agent's fee from that £100 and your tax and I'm left with nothing at all. Do I watch cable TV? No way - I can't afford it anyway. Certainly not on what they don't pay me."

Under an agreement with Equity, channels that wish to broadcast UK programmes, such as UK Gold, pay a one-off sum for a licence to show a set number of programmes, usually a series.

The cast then shares 17% of that lump sum between them, each taking a proportion that is relevant to their prominence in the show.

An Equity spokesman agreed that the royalties received by actors from cable companies are sometimes small but insisted that the current contract is "realistic" because of the huge discrepancy in audience figures between cable and terrestrial television.

He said: "Supposing UK Gold started to rival BBC2 in its audience figures, then yes, we would think about a new agreement. But there are advantages because by showing an old programme on a minority cable channel it can prove there is an unexpected audience for it which has led to the BBC showing it again.

"If we told cable channels you have to pay the same as the BBC then they would just buy something cheap from America."

The Good Life Christmas special attracted an audience of 2.3 million to BBC2 in December 2003, whereas it can expect to draw nearer to 100,000 viewers to UK Gold.

The sitcom, which made its debut 29 years ago, was recently voted one of Britain's top ten best sitcoms in a BBC2 poll.