The mucky allegations about a ‘household name’ BBC star – who is said to have paid thousands of pounds to a teenager for sexually explicit pictures – has exposed our obsession with TV presenters. We invite these people into our homes every day. Stars we never meet become familiar, a part of our lives and daily routines. Now, for one of these presenters, their world has come crashing down, and we can’t get enough of it.
There are plenty of questions hanging over this story: we still don’t know the identity of the presenter concerned, even if social media is awash with a list of suspects. And we don’t know whether the allegations are true. But there’s no doubt that we find presenters caught up in scandals fascinating. There is also something deliciously exciting about such stories. It’s futile to pull a shocked face and pretend otherwise.
Perhaps our obsession is because TV presenters are an odd type. Presenting, when you stop to consider it, is a strange job. The presenter’s job is a simple one: to read an autocue. Yet, for this task, they are paid a fortune – hundreds of thousands of pounds a year – and attract loyal, even cult followings.
In recent years, these figures have multiplied like rabbits and become more and more central to their shows, and to our culture in general. As Julie Burchill has written, the logical endpoint of all this would be a TV programme called Presenters Present Presenters. Increasingly, as with so much else in our cultural diet – superheroes, stand-up comedians, the SNP – what was once an amuse-bouche is plated up as a main course. We now have the likes of Carol Vorderman, Kirstie Allsopp, Gary Lineker and Chris Packham anointing themselves – incredibly – as our moral arbiters.