Jonathan Ross exit marks end of BBC era

Host will return to British television on rival net ITV

LONDON -- The departure of the BBC's highest paid star Jonathan Ross marks the end of an era, not only for the chat show host, but for the pubcaster as a whole.

As the last ever "Friday Night With Jonathan Ross" went on air a roll call of big names were lined up to join the chatshow host and film-buff on the couch for one last time.

Mickey Rourke, David Beckham, Jackie Chan and a one-off set by Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music were just some of the highlights planned for Ross's final curtain call.

But behind the scenes of a snazzy send-off, the BBC is scaling back the amount it is prepared to pay its top entertainment talent, and in some cases is opting out of the competitive market for big-name presenters in the U.K. altogether.

Earlier this month it very publicly refused to get into a bidding war with ITV to retain two of its rising daytime stars, Adrian Chiles and Christine Bleakley.

The former hosts of BBC1 news magazine "The One Show" will now present ITV's breakfast show "Daybreak."

"The political pressures on the BBC are so ferocious it can't afford to be seen to overpay for talent, and at the same time the commercial sector is still weakened by the recession, so the market is just not there anymore," said a senior network executive.

British audiences won't have to wait too long for the return of Ross, known to his adoring millions as Wossy.

He will be back on rival net ITV with an 18-part Friday night show next year. But only for a fraction of the £18 million fee three-year contract he was reportedly paid by the BBC.