The Boorish Broadcasting Corporation?

By all accounts, the former head of BBC Radio 2, Lesley Douglas, is an impressive person, and that her resignation yesterday from the BBC – in the wake of the Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross furore – will deprive the Corporation of a genuine talent.

Russell Brand is also talented, and so his resignation will be deeply mourned too.

Of the two, Brand certainly shouldn’t have gone. He was only doing what comes naturally to him, within parameters set by his bosses. The thing is, these parameters accept boorishness and constant references to sex.

It is particularly easy for people who are not themselves involved in presenting, either to millions or an audience of 20, to become deeply self-righteous when something ‘offensive’ spills out of someone’s mouth. They have probably never spoken to more than two people at any one time and therefore do not understand the particular pressures that come from any type of public speaking – to be engaging, funny, spontaneous, interesting.

All who have been involved in speaking to a group of people on a regular basis will no doubt have uttered something they regret. It just came out that way, one’s brain was not fully ‘in gear’. It happens.

Given that unfortunate things are always liable to be said, the only way of minimising the risk of them being ‘beyond the pale’ is to establish general ground rules as to what is acceptable and what is not. A culture to operate within. Rules on race, sexual orientation, gender, age, etc.

The truth is that, for better or for worse, the BBC might not hire racists but it does boorish people. And given them something of a free reign, often in the name of being ‘edgy’ and ‘cutting edge’.

The comments that have set Brand’s career back (maybe only by a little) were little different to what passes as standard elsewhere among the BBC’s output. Shagging. Maybe that’s why there were so few complaints immediately following Brand’s broadcast and why the comments were not expunged by his production team when there was the chance to do so, by virtue of them being pre-recorded. We’re used to them.

Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis had her boss squirming last night. When asked what he thought of comedian, Frankie Boyle, suggesting, on BBC’s Mock the Week, that ‘Her Majesty’s pussy was so old, it was haunted’, director-general, Mark Thompson, initially struggled for an answer.

Then, he found one: Boyle’s comment was off-the-cuff and Brand’s involved intruding into someone’s privacy, by leaving ‘offensive’ remarks on a telephone answer machine.

But would it have still been a privacy issue had Brand left an inoffensive remark on the answer machine? Of course not. Or even a funny remark that didn’t need to be lewd in order to get a laugh?

The irony is that it may have been the telephone answer machine wot really did for Brand. The answer machine captured the moment more than otherwise would have been the case. Because it’s safe to say he would not have been so castigated had Andrew Sachs – the intended recipient of the call – been subjected to comments about his granddaughter by simply hearing them on the radio, perhaps whilst tending to his garden.

Mike Wilson

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