Brian McNair Writes About – Brand and Ross

I often find Russell Brand’s humour to be excessively lavatorial, and Jonathan Ross annoys me with his self-congratulatory ‘me-and-Ricky-and-Russell-and-Madonna-are–all-such-great-mates’ routine.

I like edgy, irreverent comedy, but am uncomfortable with the bullying, intrusive tone of the phone calls which have caused such problems for the BBC this week.

I share the general public condemnation of the two presenters, which has led to two resignations and one suspension so far, and which BBC managers will hope draws a line under the scandal. It has been a fascinating spectacle, though, and one which shows the high stakes game in which the BBC is currently involved.

First, let’s be clear that a line was crossed on this occasion. A few months ago, I heard Frankie Boyle make a joke about paedophilia in a performance given at the BBC’s Pacific Quay HQ. I thought it was in bad taste, and inappropriate, and yes, offensive, because there are some things that humour can’t fix.

If I had been a victim of sexual abuse, listening to Boyle’s routine about a teacher abusing his kids, I’m pretty sure I would have been hurt all over again, not least by the insensitivity of the comedian.

In the Brand-Ross case, bragging on air to an elderly gentlemen about having ‘f**ked your granddaughter’ seems similarly violatory – an assault not just on privacy, but on the taboo which says that sex and family should not be combined in this way. And for what? The ‘joke’ wasn’t even funny.

Funny or not, the reaction to the story highlights the BBC’s vulnerability at a time when broadcasting regulators, Ofcom, and the government are moving towards final recommendations on the future of public service broadcasting in the UK.

It was bad luck for director-general, Mark Thompson, that the scandal should have been provoked by the presenter who, more than any other, symbolises BBC profligacy and celebrity excess at a time when most organisations are feeling the financial pinch. That it should be the BBC’s