Sandy Ross’s TV festival diary, part one


EVERY year, there are complaints about ticket prices on the Edinburgh Fringe but the most expensive show on the circuit has just got under way with an one-hour extravaganza hosted by superstars, Ant and Dec, with support from Amanda Holden, Louis Walsh and Jimmy Carr.

Yes, the MediaGuardian Edinburgh International TV Testival, with all its pulling power, has rolled into town.

If you are lucky enough to get one, the tickets will set you back a cool £575.

And for that, you can mix with the great and good and the not-so-good of British and international television.

Later, I’ll reveal the winner of TV’s Got Talent – eight acts of TV folk, including ITV’s Peter Fincham and the BBC’s Jana Bennett, performing out of their comfort zone.

Brilliant stuff.

Suffice it to say, the wnner got 182 votes, so you can feel for the Channel 4 ‘rapper’ who got, er… one.

Meanwhile, highlights of the weekend’s upcoming events include sessions with Jeremy Clarkson; a masterclass from David Simon, producer of the fantastic US TV series, the Wire; Ant and Dec ‘in conversation'; the Channel of the Year awards, with Michael McIntyre; and the MacTaggart Lecture, with James Murdoch.

It will certainly be intriguing to hear Murdoch deliver the MacTaggart 20 years after his father, Rupert, entered the ‘lion’s den’ and told the UK television industry that they were dinosaurs and their time was past.


What might have been one of the most controversial sessions of the festival’s Friday afternoon – whether TV presenters and executives’ salaries could be justified – didn’t quite manage to catch fire.

Chair, Nicky Campbell, tried his usual argumentative best to encourage Peter Fincham of ITV, Kevin Lygo of Channel 4, Jana Bennett of the BBC and Graham Stuart of So Television to slug it out on whether you could justify Jonathan Ross’s salary or Jana Bennett’s handbag with Tory Shadow minister for Culture, Ed Vaizey MP.

But the argument got stuck on the principle of whether transparency on salaries would distort the market in talent or help it.

Even Vaizey, who said that – if the Tories win the next election – they would insist on the BBC publishing salaries, refused to be drawn on what he thought was a reasonable or “appropriate” salary for Ross.

The whole panel agreed, however, that there were really only about four or five stars who made the market what it is.

Campbell revealed that, when he told the BBC he didn’t want to stay at the George Hotel or the Caledonian, to be here – because he was instead staying with his mum – the BBC press office wanted to leak it to the Mail on Sunday to show how parsimonious the BBC was.


I had promised you earlier…

The MediaGuardian Television Festival started with a bang when Ant and Dec hosted an Edinburgh TV Festival special edition of ‘TVs Got Talent ‘, with all of the acts drawn from the TV industry itself.

Could the industry itself hack it with the Susan Boyles?

Louis Walsh and Amanda Holden both turned up to play themselves as judges but Simon Cowell sent a taped message telling a capacity audience that he could have been there but he had chosen not to because the idea of watching TV executives performing was his “idea of hell.”

And to emphasise this, he sent in his place as a judge, Jimmy Carr.

Well Simon, all I can say is you missed yourself. There were eight acts on show and any one of them would not have disgraced ‘Britain’s Got Talent’.

Kicking off the proceedings was a hard-rocking version of Wings’ ‘Live and Let Die’ – performed by the Overnights, featuring ITV director, Peter Fincham, on keyboards, and Tim Hincks, of Endemol, on guitar and backing vocals.

Jimmy Carr was moved to comment that Paul McCartney would have been turning in his grave – “had The Beatles died in the right order”.

The one exception to the consistently high standard was director of BBC Vision, Jana Bennett, who was the first act to be buzzed off by the judges and booed (in good spirit) by the audience.

Jana performed a version of the Box Tops’ ‘Letter’, wearing a strange, swirly cloak and an even stranger hairstyle which provoked Louis Walsh to ask if she was wearing a wig!

The star turns were Cathy Burke, a production manager from Ten Star Entertainment, who sang an aria from The Magic Flute and Caroline Philpot, who has… er … perfected the amazing art of… er…  singing with her mouth… er… shut.

It went to the audience vote and Philpot was the winner by a large margin.

Sandy Ross is a former managing director of STV.