I'm enjoying listening to nervous BBC presenters quizzing Sir Michael Lyons about the BBC Trust's determination to publish the names of the talent who get most money from the corporation. Jeremy Clarkson is no doubt paid a small fortune and he probably makes sure that his remuneration is organised in as tax-efficient a way as possible. So would you. Now that Ross is leaving the BBC Clarkson will be the whipping boy, the first about whom we'll be asked to decide "is he really worth that much?"
I don't know what the sum is but if any TV presenter is worth it I reckon Clarkson is worth it. Lots of people, me included, will watch anything he presents. (Full disclosure: I've no interest in cars.) He probably writes his own links, which is more than can be said about 90% of TV presenters. There is a sign, in everything he does, of a mischievous intelligence at work. He's got that energy which is the most important thing broadcasters need. He's a genuine TV star in that even when things slightly misfire you have to watch the way he slightly colours up. He's human in a way that your standard autocue reader isn't.
James May and Richard Hammond are perfectly good at what they do and very famous as a consequence of it but they're not genuine TV stars. If Clarkson went to ITV or Channel Four he'd take a lot of his audience with him. There are a lot of people who are likely to calculate their value for money from the licence fee in terms of how much Jeremy Clarkson it gets them. This is a fact, whether sophisticated opinion wishes to believe it or not.
But just because Clarkson is worth it, that doesn't mean that most TV presenters are also worth it. I suspect the BBC pay Clarkson-type money to a number of well-known faces who don't write their own links, are entirely the creatures of their producers, do very well because they're in the right slot at the right time and wouldn't take much of their audience with them if they moved. I wonder whether that's behind the implication in Sir Michael Lyons' interview this morning that the public might be surprised who's in the top band and who isn't.