Good old BBC Breakfast, the flagship programme increasingly, it seems, aimed at six-year-olds. Yesterday, as there was breaking news of the death of Stephen Hawking and we were just a few hours after the deadline for a response from Russia about the attack on British soil involving the use of nerve agent, guess what presenter Louise Minchin still couldn’t wait to mention. That’s right, the gender pay gap.
Was this about a woman up to her shoulders down a manhole (personhole, if you want) repairing all that stuff most of us don’t have to think about till it goes wrong – you know, laying cables, pipes, hacking grease blocks out of sewers, while getting filthy and risking injury – and not being paid the same as the man down the adjacent hole doing the same kind of repairs? No, of course not. One reason is that women don’t tend to do this kind of work. Funny, though, how we never hear from Carrie Gracie and the sisterhood that women are being kept out of roadworks teams or off construction sites, physically punishing, unglamorous, low-status toil that is not well remunerated and often needs to take place in rain and sleet. Funny how it seems mostly to be about boardrooms and so-called glass ceilings, possibly literally glass ceilings in swanky inner-city buildings designed by award-winning architects. Anyway, a world away from the fellas out there lifting and carrying in the drizzle.
Was it about a teacher of the same age, qualifications and experience being paid less than her male counterpart? No. Was it about a woman social worker ditto same age, qualifications and experience and the same case load being fobbed off with a lower salary than her male colleague? No. How about a female GP doing the same hours being in receipt of a lower salary than the male doctor in the room next door? Not this one either. Care workers? No. Cabin crew? No. Solicitors? Accountants? Still wrong.
It was another Tale from Tinseltown involving the exploitation of women. Poor Claire Foy, star of Netflix’s The Crown series, was apparently paid less than Matt Smith, who played the Duke of Edinburgh to her Elizabeth II. Foy was reportedly paid £28,000 per episode for the first two series, less than Smith, though his haul was not made clear. At a TV industry conference in Jerusalem, co-producer Suzanne Mackie said that the pay difference would be rectified in future. ‘Going forward, no one gets paid more than the Queen,’ as industry trade journal Variety quoted her. The producers had claimed that it was Smith’s previous work on Dr Who that earned him higher pay.
I don’t claim to know much about the wrangles and negotiations that must take place between stars, their agents, studio bosses, tax accountants looking after their investments, whoever. What I do know, and am confident that most people feel the same, is that like Premiership footballers, or people who play concerts to a packed O2, these performers are well paid. They wouldn’t deny that. Maybe they wouldn’t even deny that they were overpaid. Grossly so. It’s no use, however, going on about this. The market pays what the market pays. Presumably, the studio looked at the slightly younger Foy’s track record and angled at what it could get her for. That’s what they do; they’re a business, not a social service. Maybe Foy and her agent could have played hardball, but reasoned that the role might have gone to another equally beautiful and talented young actress (after all, there are a lot of them). To be fair to Foy, brilliant in her role as the young monarch and a worthy winner of a Golden Globe, she’s made nothing of it and appeared embarrassed when the subject was raised. Maybe she was wondering why anyone was treating her as a victim whose battle needed fighting for her or maybe she was thinking ‘I felt darned lucky to be paid what I was, though my fee has now just gone up nicely.’ I hope, though, that she was thinking, ‘Oh hell, here we go again. Somebody on this non-case.’
Essentially, how are stars to be paid, apart from as a result of deals their agents broker that are quite frankly nobody else’s business if they don’t involve taxpayers’ money? Perhaps even now the actors’ trade union Equity is drawing up guidelines about years in the industry, time unemployed and waiting on tables before successful auditions, numbers of lines actors deliver, their dramatic role within the screenplay, time spent in re-shoots, make-up, cost of luxury trailer, box office pull, how many red-carpet parties they get to attend. Quite complicated. Maybe down the road in Silicon Valley there are already tech millionaires working on an algorithm to fix it all. I think a good idea would be for Equity to ask, in the name of wealth redistribution, that all its members give to union funds everything they earn annually in excess of six figures so that this can help struggling unemployed actors and fund drama schools for the poor. Especially if these established actors already own homes in north London.
In the meantime, Minchin’s fellow co-presenter attempted to play devil’s advocate and say that The Crown’s producers would probably argue that it was about Smith’s track as Doctor Who. Minchin giggled in her usual way at his silliness and shut him down. She didn’t pick it up as a reasonable point about a marketplace and about Seller Beware as well as Buyer Beware. Nothing more to be said. The national broadcaster allows its female presenters to say there is a gender pay gap, and that’s that.