In quotes widely reported in the British press, Mirren told an audience at the Kiln Theatre in London that the licence fee, a mandatory £154.50 ($200) levy on UK households, has “had its day.”
Mirren stressed that “we cannot lose the BBC,” but on the licence fee, she reportedly said: “I think we are moving past that. And what will follow it I don’t know. I think that the licence fee has had its day.”
The actress was speaking against the backdrop of a spirited debate about the future of the BBC in the UK, with Boris Johnson’s government apparently making moves to weaken the corporation and threaten its future funding.
The licence fee will remain in place until 2027 when the BBC’s current charter expires, but this did not stop Downing Street sources from briefing The Sunday Times that the funding model will be scrapped in favor of a radical overhaul that will see the BBC become a subscription service.
Achieving this will be fraught with complication, however, given all of the BBC’s TV and radio channels sit on free-to-air platforms, such as Freeview. It could also be politically toxic for the government, given the BBC is the broadcaster of choice for millions of viewers and listeners every day.
Within 24 hours of The Sunday Times story being published, a petition to “save our BBC” had 100,000 signatures. It now has nearly 150,000. Prominent Conservative MPs have also jumped to the BBC’s defense, while The Sunday Times’ sister paper, The Times, reported on Tuesday that prime minister Johnson is not as keen on revolutionizing the BBC as his top aide Dominic Cummings.
Meanwhile, Mirren said she would “love” to work again for the BBC or ITV, where she won three BAFTAs for her role in police drama Prime Suspect. Mirren starred in Sky drama Catherine the Great last year.
“The work that is being done in Britain on both the BBC and ITV, it is so good. I have seen a series of really such good work. Work on British TV is pretty amazing,” she said.