An actor employed by the BBC has apologised for saying that men earn more than women so that their wives can be stay-at-home mothers.
Tom Chambers plays a doctor on long-running BBC One hospital drama Casualty. He waded into the BBC gender pay gap row over the weekend to defend his co-star Derek Thompson, who had been revealed as the broadcaster’s best-paid actor.
A public report on the top salaries at the BBC had shown that Thompson is paid £399,999 for his role in Casualty – £100,000 more than his Casualty co-star (and the BBC’s best-paid actress) Amanda Mealing.
The report revealed huge discrepancies between the salaries of male and female BBC employees, as well as between white people and people of colour.
In conversation with a reporter from The Sun at a book launch, Chambers said that the gender pay gap at the BBC had a simple explanation.
“Many men’s salaries aren’t just for them, it’s for their wife and children, too,” he said. “My wife works really hard as a stay-at-home mum, but I’m the only one bringing in a salary for our family.”
Chambers’ comments elicited a furious response on social media from those who said he had failed to grasp the significance of the BBC report.
Chambers, who did not appear on the list of BBC figures paid £150,000 or more, later apologised.
“[I] didn’t mean to offend anyone by my comments which have been taken out of context from a conversation I had at a book launch,” he told Express.co.uk.
The actor added that he had been “completely mortified” at how his comments were interpreted.
“I in no way advocate the gender pay gap and I was explaining that I thought it had stemmed from that past, and shouldn’t be how things are now,” he said.
“I truly believe that change needs to happen.”
Elsewhere, the controversy over the pay gap at the BBC shows no sign of dying down. Writing in the Guardian on Tuesday, Radio 5 Live presenter Rachel Burden said that women journalists were made to feel like troublemakers when they asked BBC bosses if they were being paid the same as their male counterparts.
“Few enquiries had a satisfactory outcome – the female journalists were either ignored, belittled or made to feel as if they were being troublesome,” she said.
In addition, more than 40 female stars signed an open letter in The Telegraph calling on the BBC to “act now” to address pay discrimination.
“This is an opportunity for those of us with strong and loud voices to use them on behalf of all, and for an organisation that had to be pushed into transparency to do the right thing,” reads the letter, which was signed by high-profile presenters and journalists including Fiona Bruce, Emily Maitlis and Clare Balding.
Just under a third of the names that appeared on the BBC’s list of top earners were women. The highest-paid woman, meanwhile, also earned much less than the best-paid man: compare Claudia Winkleman’s £499,999 salary to that of Chris Evans (more than £2.2million).
Also highlighted as concerning was the fact that not a single person from an ethnic minority background made it into the top 20 earners. Just 10 of the BBC’s 96 highest-paid stars were non-white, something that Lenny Henry condemned as “the dirty secret of what our industry really looks like”.
The ‘class gap’ is another issue, with the vast majority of highly-paid BBC figures coming from wealthy or middle-class backgrounds. Some 45% of the broadcaster’s best-paid stars went to private schools, compared to 7% of the nation overall.
The BBC initially said that it was aiming to close the gender pay gap by 2020. However, the director general, Tony Hall, has now said that he hopes the organisation will “get there earlier… I want the BBC to be regarded as an exemplar on gender and diversity”.
Images: Rex Features