Letters of the week

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Tax report strays from real issue

I write to congratulate the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee on its seemingly exquisite timing. At a time when the BBC is laid low as a result of repeated government attacks on its funding, the PAC releases a report claiming the Corporation hands out 25,000 contracts a year that potentially allow these employees to limit their tax liabilities. The view of the MPs is that the BBC has a duty to “maintain the highest standards of propriety” if it is “to show leadership in the fight against tax avoidance”.

This is not then to camouflage the fact that the BBC as we know it, our BBC, is at risk of being privatised as a result of repeated attacks on its funding? Not least to hoodwink the Corporation’s millions of listeners and viewers, who are being kept in the dark?

Skulduggery apart, my view is that MPs have a duty to maintain the highest standards of propriety and show leadership in the fight against total BBC meltdown. I write on behalf of thousands of actors, musicians, journalists and writers and technical staff who are deeply concerned for the future of the BBC if cuts of 20% are made to its budgets, as proposed.

Quality journalism and creative programming are already under threat. The BBC’s news and programmes are being disproportionately hit. Watching or listening to the BBC’s news even now, you will see or hear packages and reports repeated with ever greater frequency – the same editorial line on a story being taken across numerous outlets. There will be yet more reductions in sports coverage. And plans are afoot to cut local radio, investigative journalism and the Asian network. Believe me – I am a researcher.

The BBC’s strengths are its editorial independence and its integrity. The Corporation provides unrivalled training and experience for its staff that produce world-beating television, radio programming and high-quality drama and comedy. It supports wide-ranging regional coverage, and enriches the cultural landscape with events such as the Proms, ensuring the UK’s huge export success in audio-visual markets.

Yet BBC executives, under the then-director general Mark Thompson, capitulated to successive government-imposed cuts to the licence fee and foreign office funding. This strategy caused considerable damage. A disastrous licence fee settlement, reached as part of this year’s spending review, was the final blow. A BBC weakened by these cuts will be vulnerable to its enemies, who have consistently argued for it to be privatised.

Furthermore, at a time when research clearly shows that people would be prepared to pay more in the current fee to protect the BBC, licence fee-payers were not asked for their views when the deal was done. That’s not fair. We should all have a say. If current licence fee-paying households paid just 7p more per day, the cuts could be stopped.

I am asking you all to call for an urgent review of Delivering Quality First programming, with a view to protecting core areas of BBC output. I am urging you to put pressure on the government to review the licence fee settlement.

Why should licence payers fund local TV and broadband roll-out? The BBC is a national asset. It is your job to defend it. If you wish to tell the new director general your views on these cuts, please address your letter to: BBC Director General, BBC Broadcasting House, Portland Place, London W1A 1AA. Alternatively, go to www.nuj.org.uk/bbc_alternative.html

Faith Hines
Email address supplied


Losses all round for us investors

There is no doubt Mark Shenton is right about the unfairness in fringe theatre (Time for the fringe to pay its way, October 18, page 8). Trying to identify a solution, he suggests the profits of a show that transfers to the West End might provide a source of financial support for future fringe productions.

Not necessarily so. For example, he quotes La Cage aux Folles, but even that lost money for West End investors – the people who enable the production to happen. Even a Broadway transfer such as Legally Blonde, which won three Olivier awards, including best musical, ran for 974 performances and achieved box office takings in excess of £25 million, didn’t recoup all its angels’ money – I speak as one such investor myself.

So what is the problem with the theatre, both on and Off-West End, and what is the solution?

Mark’s suggestion of a need for transparency is certainly key. A recent Off-West End musical was set up as a limited company. All involved were kept informed, it was managed as a business and achieved a 3% profit over an eight-week run. The team received a small bonus and the angels got their money back, in most cases rolling it into another Off-West End production. The answer is professional management and transparency.

Some say that the Broadway approach, where a production is formed as a limited company, would better serve all stake-holders, as would its practice of publicly publishing the figures for the larger production on a weekly basis.

However, it would seem most of the management in the West End regard the US approach as overly complicated and unacceptably transparent, and feel more comfortable with their current, woollier situation. Some, including the smaller investors, see the limited company approach as simpler and, most importantly, offering far greater clarity to all stakeholders.

Is it time for UK management to reflect the seemingly more professional Broadway approach, and not bite the hands that feed them – namely the performers and the angels?

Name and address supplied


Naysayers need to listen up

As a gigging musician, I must disagree with the view that the Live Music Act will cause an overcrowded market (Insight, November 1, page 6). I can only speak for London and slightly further afield, but pubs and venues are shutting all the time and live music is surely the best way to keep the punters coming.

How many pubs can afford a full PA and set-up to compete with the more established venues anyway?

The article appears mainly to air the point of view of promoters. But it’s the unscrupulous members of this group who are part of the problem – namely, those who use the model of cramming in as many bands as possible and charging a high door fee so they get their cut.

A free gig with a cut of the bar takings works for both the venue and the band. Perhaps musicians like me, who just want to get paid enough to buy some new strings, maybe sell a few homemade CDs and make sure everyone has a great night out, are part of the problem for ‘the industry’ as well?

Most of us keep our day jobs, are under no illusion that we will be the next Arctic Monkeys or Adele, and – unlike the middlemen – have accepted that the music industry has changed beyond recognition.

Catherine Gerbrands
Singer and instrumentalist
Valerie and Her Week of Wonders
Email address supplied


Directory’s role call of honour

If gaining one’s Equity card was a passport into the acting profession, surely an entry into the Spotlight casting directory is an endorsement to actors? The resource, having just celebrated its 85th birthday (At your service, October 11, page 36), invites a bemused ‘casting eye’ over earlier editions in order to witness the pictorial changes that have taken place.

By this I refer to the full and half-page entries of years gone by. Back then, studio stills depicted the ‘character’ in an almost romantic manner, being wonderfully lit and crystal clear – and at the same time communicating the persona in a way that served every casting need.

Things have changed somewhat, perhaps in a more practical vein, yet still serve that very same purpose.

What is humbling – I suggest to up and coming thespians – is to note some of the faces from these earlier editions that now inhabit our living-room screens from time to time – both male and female, in varied roles.

They have truly paid their dues in what remains a precarious profession, and Spotlight is surely testimony to that.

JA Last
Email address supplied