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Robert Powell has launched an uncharacteristic rant against the BBC and ITV. The veteran actor, best-known as TV's Jesus of Nazareth in the Seventies, has blamed the industry's golden handcuffs deals with a select band of stars for squeezing out other talent and squandering cash.

Powell, 56, star of The Detectives, Doomwatch and various films, including Mahler and The 39 Steps, is struggling to place his own projects while his wife, former Pan's People dancer, Babs Lord, is away on a BT round-the-world yacht trip.

He says that television companies are increasingly "narrow minded" and unwilling to take a risk on all but a handful of stars locked into contracts. These include former Coronation Street barmaid Sarah Lancashire, who signed a GBP 1.3 million ITV deal last year; John Thaw (GBP 2.5 million, Carlton); Robson Green (GBP 3. 75 million, ITV); Ross Kemp (GBP 1.2 millionITV) and Nick Berry (GBP 3 million, BBC).

Powell claims that exclusive contracts lead to actors either being offered run-of-the-mill shows or miscast. He says: "I'm wheeling and dealing at the moment, trying to get together various plots and plans.

"But it's easier said than done because you have to sell these ideas to TV companies who are increasingly narrow-minded. You've only got to turn on your TV to see that. The BBC and ITV have decided to put actors on contract - we were never under contract. You just went where the money was."

Powell also claims that the huge salaries big stars rake in wipes out much of the profit their shows make and so eats up cash that could be spent on other programmes.

"You raise leading actors' fees to such huge proportions that it stops it from being a commercial proposition. Then you are forced into using these actors even if they are not right for the part."

Babs, 55, returns from the BT Global Challenge in June while Robert will join the next leg of the race this month to raise money for the Lord's Taverners charity.

JOHN MCENTEE, The Express, February 2, 2001.