Tuesday, October 28, 2008

That Jonathan Ross/Russell Brand radio debacle, the power of celebrity super-agents, and the unsung genius of Andy Davies

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?


Anonymous said...

Can't agree about Jonathon Ross Tom, the guy is a buffoon.

In the week leading up to the release of a new James Bond movie, the interviw with Daniel Craig last week should have been memorable. It wasn't. It was embarrasing.

Brian C said...

Can't agree about Jonathon Ross I'm affraid. The guy is a buffoon.

The interview with Daniel Craig - which should have been a highlight of the week - so was bad it was embarrasing.

As for Russell Brand..............,

Anonymous said...

Well written piece and I pretty much agree with all that you say. I think the whole episode is pretty unsavoury to be honest and in a way I would be glad if some pretty strong action was taken. Like you I thoroughly enjoy the Radio 2 show, principally because I think SAndy selects some excellent music, I am a big Bowie fan so I suppose I am less bothered about that!

Anonymous said...

As I understand it, Messrs Ross and Brand are employed by the BBC as cutting-edge commentators on this Modern Society we are bound to live in, using their cutting-edge humour and erudite asides as the mirror they hold up to reflect the risible mores of this Society in a cutting-edge, erudite kind of way. Although the renumeration they receive for these skills is very substantial indeed, I defy anyone to gainsay their considerable acumen in leaving obscene phone messages for a (now) obscure actor, who let's face it, has done nothing of note since "Fawlty Towers" ended.

I whole-heartedly support Wossy's and Brand's comedic duty to point this out by leaving what have been described as "puerile" messages on Mr Sachs' voicemail, thus exposing the fact that although the comedic character essayed by Mr Sachs in the said sitcom will long remain in blessed memory, even unto the day when Wossy's and Russell's bones will have been rendered to dust on the cheating breeze, Mr Sachs should be looking for a higher profile, preferably through his more nubile female relatives.

If that means Russell Brand must bring to bear his cutting-edge humour by making lewd and lascivious innuendos regarding Mr Sachs's grand-daughter, then I think we should defer to his judgement as an erudite, cutting-edge commentator on this crazy world that we live in, and bumper his name up unto the rafters!

Anonymous said...

I am not been funny Anonymous but what did your comments mean?

hoolet said...

hi tom
who is mr. / mrs anonymous , brand or wossy? or their mothers

Unknown said...

Wed evening

Good. One down; one to go.

jtonner said...

interesting read Tom. I'm mostly insulated from Brand herein the US, thankfully. I was quite surprized to discover yesterday that the word that immediately popped into my head to describe Brand had been previously used for that same purpose by Bob Geldof.

Anonymous said...

I agree with most of what you say Tom, although I do like Russell Brand , but he's got a long way to go before he can be considered in the same class as Ross.

I much prefer the Jonathan Ross radio show to his Friday night TV show, not really a big fan of talk shows, unless the guests are interesting, which all too often they aren't. I think another reason for preferring the radio show to the telly show is the musical input of Andy Davies and the way him and Ross interact with each other. I might be wrong, but did Andy not used to appear on the TV show as well?

I fear that the Jonathan Ross we see and hear after he's served his suspension, may never be as raw and cutting edge as he was before "Sachsgate", but fingers crossed that he makes a return to form.

I think it's safe to say that neither Ross or Brand will be offered a column for The Daily Mail in the foreseeable future.

Anonymous said...

Can't agree about Jonathan Ross, Tom. Jonathan Ross just seems to me like a 'dirty old man'. Brand is much less clever than he thinks he is.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy(ed) both of the culprits' radio shows very much - usually in podcast form - and would disagree about Russell Brand's value as a performer and presenter. He annoyed me initially, but I very quickly saw that he is a very intelligent, well-read and eloquent man . . when he wants to be. He could do with an Andy by his side, and it's interesting to note that Jonathan Ross was sitting in in the absence of his usual sidekick Matt Morgan - perhaps his nearest equivalent to Ross's Andy, and often a (slightly) stabilising influence.

However, I do recognise that they clearly crossed the line on this occasion - though, as a long-time listener to the Brand podcast, there have been a few other incidents which were nearly on a par.

I think the important thing for the BBC to realise now is that they need to be careful - in this ever evolving media age we now live in - not to marginalise themselves and become too stuffy and old-fashioned by comparison to what's out there in independent podcasts, youtube, etc. Their fingers have clearly been badly burnt by getting too far down the 'edgy' route, but they definitely need to make sure not to react too far in the other direction.

Anonymous said...

norrie what anonymous is telling you is thathe is as big an asshole as that pair of simpletons

Rachel Fox said...

I'm surprised to read you're such a Ross fan. I can't listen to the radio show (not nearly enough music, too much dull waffle, the odd funny bit but not enough to make the rest worth suffering) and the TV show is so painful that I only watch if there is a guest I really, really want to see. There are worse people on radio and TV for sure but that's not a reason to keep paying him so much money. I have tried not to read too much on this whole answer machine thing but I've been surprised not to read the question 'how would you feel, Mr Ross, if this message had been about one of your daughters?' (if they were older). He plays a lot on his family man image...so much for that. Russell Brand doesn't pretend to be anything other than what he is (a bit of a tart, sometimes a funny one) but Ross does and should have known better.

That Douglas woman...as she is the person responsible for putting Chris Evans on the drivetime R2 show I'm glad she's gone. Can we have someone else on that show now please?