Middlesbrough has produced more than its share of working-class heroes, including football colossi Brian Clough and Don Revie. ‘Smoggies’ are less prevalent, however, as national BBC broadcasters, so Steph McGovern, once described by a manager as ‘too common’ to be a presenter, must be commended for scaling the dizzy heights of BBC Breakfast and Watchdog. For the Beeb she has even co-presented with James O’Brien, but let us be charitable and not hold that against her.
Interviewed by the Sunday Times regarding her work with the charity Young Enterprise, as Ollie Wright recently reported, all attention instead fell upon McGovern’s candid response to questions regarding the BBC, her view summed up by: ‘We concentrate too much on ethnic diversity and not enough on class.’
All forms of positive discrimination are pernicious, and Ollie rightly decried McGovern’s chippy belief that a presenter from humble origins, speaking in a regional accent, has intrinsic merit. Nevertheless, with many BBC women continuing to claim gender discrimination over pay, she also offered the heretical opinion: ‘It’s not as simple as a gender issue; it’s partly down to class. There are a lot of women who do a similar job to me who are paid a hell of a lot more . . . who are a lot posher than me.’ Claiming there to be a charmed circle of women is most certainly not from the script approved by the BBC sisterhood.
McGovern revealed that, following the latest stushie over pay differentials, only now has her salary been increased to six figures. Not being an aficionado of her work, I make no judgment on whether or not the increased pay reflects her ability. Until now, the only occasion upon which McGovern had crossed my radar was a report in January of viewers congratulating her on being pregnant, to which she had replied: ‘I am not “with child”, I am “with pot belly”’ – a response which, if nothing else, points to a degree of self-deprecation seldom evident amongst the solemn pay-gap protesters at the BBC.
She also opined that the pay of a BBC presenter should not exceed £150,000, which must have greatly annoyed many of the BBC women who last year signed the letter of complaint to director general Tony Hall. Those signatories included Fiona Bruce, Victoria Derbyshire, Mishal Husain, Martha Kearney and Laura Kuenssberg, all of whom already receive north of £200,000 and, by coincidence, all had the privilege of a private education. Also, despite six well-known BBC men having agreed in January to sizeable pay cuts, oddly there has been no report of a concomitant sacrifice by any of the Beeb’s exceptionally high-earning women, such as Claudia Winkleman, Alex Jones, Vanessa Feltz and the aforementioned Fiona Bruce.
It is instructive that following McGovern’s well-publicised assertion that many ‘posh’ female presenters still far earn more than she does, other BBC women, normally so vocal on matters of pay discrimination at the Corporation, have been strangely mute. The pay-gap protesters could easily have spun the story as evidence of yet another female colleague being undervalued by the Beeb. So far, though, McGovern has not been invited on to the Today programme for tea and sympathy from Mishal Husain. Nor, on Woman’s Hour, has Jane Garvey yet discussed with her whether gender or class is the greater determinant for pay. And hashtag pay martyr Carrie Gracie has still to reciprocate by trending #IStandWithSteph. Perhaps drawing attention to a hierarchy of privilege amongst the BBC sisters is considered bad form.
In the Sunday Times profile, McGovern recalled a Radio 4 office having a map of Middlesbrough, upon which was marked a no-go area for reporters, her parents’ house being within the exclusion zone. The silence from female colleagues at the Beeb since her interview indicates that, having declared class to be a far greater handicap than gender, Steph McGovern ventured where the more gilded BBC women dare not go.