LONDON • When the government forced the BBC to publish the salary ranges of its highest-paid entertainers and journalists, executives feared a backlash from the British public, most of whom pay £147 (S$261) a year for the privilege of watching its television broadcasts.
While many Britons criticised the high salaries, the list also showed a significant disparity in the salaries received by women, men and minorities at the British broadcaster - a pay gap that has angered many, including some of the BBC's most talented female employees.
On Sunday, in an open letter signed by 42 of them to the BBC director-general Tony Hall and published in The Sunday Times of London and other news outlets, they demanded that the corporation "act now" to eliminate the disparity.
Among the signers were anchors and media personalities such as Clare Balding, Sue Barker and Angela Rippon, and distinguished journalists such as Lyse Doucet, Jane Garvey, Emily Maitlis, Mishal Husain, Zeinab Badawi, Katya Adler and Sarah Montague.
In the letter, they asked Mr Hall to meet them, writing: "You have said that you will 'sort' the gender pay gap by 2020, but the BBC has known about the pay disparity for years. We all want to go on the record to call upon you to act now."
They wrote that the report confirmed a long-held suspicion that "women at the BBC are being paid less than men for the same work".
The BBC on Wednesday revealed for the first time the salaries of stars earning more than £150,000. The figures, published in the corporation's annual report, showed that two-thirds of the people who fell into that category were male and white.
Chris Evans, who hosts BBC Radio 2's breakfast show, was the top-paid star, earning more than £2.2 million, the report showed.
Claudia Winkleman, who hosts Strictly Come Dancing, the British equivalent of Dancing With The Stars, and BBC Radio 2's arts programme, is the corporation's highest-paid female celebrity, earning between £450,000 and £499,999, which also happens to be the pay range for Mr Hall.
He has promised to work to reduce the disparity, which has historical roots in what was a male-dominated corporation. Some prominent male journalists, such as John Humphrys, have said they had already had their salaries cut to loosen up more funds. But the women's letter demanded that Mr Hall accelerate the reduction.
The highest salaries are made by those who are entertainers or sports anchors, which the BBC said resulted from a competitive marketplace for star talent. Some of the highest paid, both male and female, make even more money than revealed because they are paid by the production companies that make some of the programmes purchased by the BBC.
The corporation has been sharply criticised in the past for lavish spending on its top management, and it has moved to cut the number of top editors and their salaries.
For some, the argument had elements of an elite debate among some of the highest-paid people in the country.
Michael White, who was a Guardian journalist, editor and columnist, said on Twitter that "lazy columnists" were milking a pay dispute "in which highly paid women complain men are paid even more". But when the figures came out, Prime Minister Theresa May called on the BBC to pay men and women equally.
"We've seen the way the BBC is paying women less for doing the same job," she told LBC radio. "What's important is that the BBC looks at the question of paying men and women the same for doing the same job."