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Paul Clayton: Crown pay disparity reminds actors to check their agents are asking the right questions

Claire Foy and Matt Smith in The Crown. Photo: Robert Viglasky/Netflix Claire Foy and Matt Smith in The Crown. Photo: Robert Viglasky/Netflix
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I feel sorry for the Queen. Well, the actor who has portrayed the Queen’s younger self so brilliantly for several years: Claire Foy.

Delivering a career-defining performance leading two series of The Crown, only for the production company to reveal she was not the highest paid member of the cast, must be a real kick in the Crown Jewels.

It’s always galling to find out colleagues are being paid more than you for what you consider to be the same job. Ask Sarah Montague of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

I remember sharing a dressing room with five young actors in Stratford-upon-Avon in the early 1980s. It wasn’t long before payslips left on dressing tables, or drunken late-night conversations in The Dirty Duck, revealed the disparity of our pay.

We were all essentially doing the same job yet some of us were being paid up to £20 a week more – a lot of money in 1983. Spears were shaken, yet at the time of our offer we had all said yes. We had been happy with our wage.

Saying yes to a fee is always difficult. It’s been made a little easier in the theatre by the introduction of ‘the company wage’ or as it’s more properly known, Equity minimum.

Trying to judge what is adequate recompense in television on the basis of past earnings is almost impossible given there are so many independent production companies and there no overall pay structure in place. With no guidelines, receiving the right money for the job is difficult.

I’m sure Foy was initially happy by the prospect of a six-figure paycheque, and I doubt her first thought was probably not “How much is everyone else getting?”.

Whether for reasons of gender, profile, or simply order of casting, Left Bank Pictures made Matt Smith a higher offer. He didn’t ask for more than his co-star.

One can only ask why Foy’s agent, who had presumably read the scripts, didn’t ask if anyone would be getting more per episode than she would. After all, it’s in negotiating fees that agents come into their own. We however should always check just what questions have been asked. After all agents are acting on our behalf. Always best to check.

Smith should not have to donate part of his salary, but Left Bank do owe some recompense. The amount in question would barely cost one days shooting on the new series and would be a wonderful gesture. It’s the suggestion of King George VI himself, Jared Harris. And Left Bank should take note. Harris is not to be tangled with lightly.

I appeared in a Christmas show with Mr Harris in the late 1980s. Walking home with another actor one night after a post-show drink, we were accosted in the high street by three local youths, wielding a crowbar and intent on trouble.

Jared told me and our colleague to head into a side street. We needed no further persuading. Soon as we were out of sight, we heard a mighty roar followed by the clang of metal. Not being complete cowards, we returned to to find Jared stood in the centre of the road, arms raised to the heavens and the crowbar at his feet.

So like those local youths who fled, Left Bank Pictures may just want to listen to the King.

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