Here's a confession: I'm a Jonathan Ross fan. I think his Saturday morning radio show frequently ascends to brilliant heights, though the pally interviews with the likes of Ricky Gervais and the constant puffing of David Bowie can become wearying.
Well, I say I'm a Jonathan Ross fan. In fact, I'm a Jonathan Ross and Andy Davies fan. And here it's worth pointing you in the direction of Andy's own little corner of the BBC megasite, where he describes his role on said radio show.
Andy is a producer (one of the show's producers - there's a team of researchers and anxious young haircuts in addition to him), but what's fascinating is Andy's own definition of his role - 'producer, sidekick, giggler and devil's advocate'. Here's what he says:
Devil's Advocate - I've made this a distinct category because I believe it is a very important part of how the show has been received. If I agreed with everything Jonathan said, it would be a waste of time to be there, challenging him once in a while brings out the best in Jonathan, and gives him a chance to show off his depth of knowledge and be entertaining with it.
Andy's advantages (and he's flown in from Spain every week just for the show, so it's obviously recognised) rest on his experience, his knowledge and his maturity. He's been around the block a time or two, and he's not afraid of Ross. Who's always on the edge of that bullying sense of over-worth that's endemic among successful presenters. Especially those getting £6million a year from the BBC.
The current, and huge, controversy over Ross's comments on Radio Two's Russell Brand Show (available on YouTube
and elsewhere) is rooted in weak production. An absence of Andy, in fact. It's said that the producer looking after the segment (which was pre-recorded, unbelievably) is aged 25. Asking someone as young and presumably inexperienced to cope with the monstrous egos of Brand and Ross in full, self indulgent flight, is ridiculous. But the fact that this whole section was sent up the management line, allegedly, and approved for broadcast in the cold light of day, is about something else.
And that something else is celebrity power. Ross and Brand carry enormous clout and certain sections of the BBC are utterly under the sway of celebrity. To be precise, celebrity agents.
Brand is not Jonathan Ross, who possesses a ferocious intelligence and tremendous knowledge (film, trivia and music), not to mention that crucial weapon for radio presenters, warmth. Brand is almost entirely a product of agency grooming and hustling. His actual talent is minor, disguised beneath his looks, image and terrified, convoluted verbals. His humour depends on aggression, derision and toxic scorn.
Let's have a wee look at the management muscle behind Ross and Brand. Ross is represented by Addison Cresswell at Off the Kerb, who also have Jack Dee, Mark Lamarr (regular Ross radio-stand in and Radio 2 presenter) Jeff Green (also frequently on R2) Phill Jupitus (formerly BBC Six Music), Rowland Rivron (R2 again) Sean Lock, Alan Carr, Mark Steel, Andy Parsons and others. Brand is managed by John Noel, who also has Dermot O'Leary (Radio Two), George Lamb (Six Music) gardener Diarmuid Gavin, Mariella Frostrup, Tess Daly and the One Show's Christine Bleakley. Both have a host of 'new talent' They are keen to boost along the path to Ross-dom and Brand-dom.
Now that, from any point of view, is serious clout. More than I'm saying, in fact - take a look at their websites. From the BBC's point of view, negotiating with that kind of muscle is both easy and hard. It's easy just to take what they offer and it's hard to get on the wrong side of them. Give the unknown a try, go on. Oh, and we've got those contract renegotiations for your big time glamourpuss celebrity success coming up, haven't we? Haven't we? Have another glass of Mimosa, darling.
So, the BBC's promised investigation of the Brand-Ross-Sachs horrorshow: what is the likely outcome? A case of deputy heads must roll? Will Brand and Ross get off Scot-free? For an offence which would have brought instant dismissal for all concerned in any other industry, and possible police action (breach of the peace in Scotland, harassment in England)?
No. And it's Ross who will suffer most. The once-obvious Wogan succession now looks distinctly wobbly. He's of an age where he needs to lay foundations for elder-statesmanhood, not sad dad-rebel-without-a-contract status. Brand's a one-trick donkey who will fade as his paunch grows and his hair falls out. But Jonathan's a real talent. If only he'd had Andy by his side, this would never have happened.
In the end, celebrity power, wielded by the big agents, will tell. Expect the production staff involved to bear the brunt of blame. A quiet period from Brand and Ross, and then they'll be back. Ross may be irreparably damaged long-term, but hey, think of that £18 million three year deal. It'll last him for a few years yet. And his wife, Jane Goldman, is now a successful movie scriptwriter.
Who's her agent?