Sunday, November 02, 2008


It’s always a problem with the fourth estate that once a story has broken and there’s blood in the water the sharks start thrashing around, desperately trying to take that extra bite. If there’s nothing left to take a snap at they’ll go looking for it in other places, at this point the news – supposedly in the public interest – turns out to have the ripe smell of personal vendettas being played out.

This past week, with the whole Radio 2 debacle over Russell Brand’s pre-recorded show allowed to be broadcast containing the provocative material concerning Andrew Sachs and his granddaughter, the knives were certainly out, ready to cut and thrust. Wading through all the column inches, it was interesting to see how both sides of the argument squared off.

Were the answerphone messages left for the veteran actor just another extreme form of “cutting edge” comedy or childish behaviour that veered beyond verbal abuse? Certainly it highlighted the generation gap as the public and public figures took sides, especially since their comments showed either a lack of respect, no understanding of when funny stops being funny, or just outright arrogance. No wonder the newspapers had an absolute field day.

As the story remained on the front pages and as first item in news broadcasts, focus shifted to the failure of control in the BBC hierarchy, all of whom were already being lined up as potential scapegoats by the newspapers out to stifle creativity in the name of Middle England. By the end of the week, criticism from within BBC Radio showed that it was all about power. If their actions meant Ross and Brand weren’t popular with the public they seemed to be even less so amongst their fellow employees.

When seasoned broadcasters finally spoke to reporters it was obvious that they were annoyed the pair of overpaid, arrogant imbeciles had brought their profession into disrepute. Soon after came word of Brand’s behaviour the general public hadn’t been privy to. On Five Live, veteran presenter Paul Gambaccini confirmed that Brand had gone through a half dozen producers, going over their heads to station controller Lesley Douglas whenever they stood up to him and getting them fired. Without any supervision, no wonder his ego was allowed to go unchecked.

The same could be said for Jonathan Ross. When he began his chat show in 2001, two years after his appointment at Radio 2 saved him from the ignominy of hawking for Pizza Hut, the format was quite funny. As the years went on, and especially of late, it’s fair to say he became boorish and overtly lecherous: being laddish with the male guests and making it quite clear that he wanted to get into the knickers of any women that sat on the sofa.

There’s always comes a point when talk show hosts reach a point where they appear to tire of the job. David Letterman, back in the late 1990s, before his a quintuple bypass operation, became ever more grouchy than usual and uncomfortable to watch. Over here Michael Parkinson lost the enthusiasm for the job long before he finally called it quits, especially since guests were there to flog their latest product rather than tell interesting stories. In Ross’ case the weary banter appeared to illuminate a mid-life sexual crisis unfolding before the audience’s eyes.

Ross’ tiresome obsession with sex certainly made for increasingly uncomfortable viewing especially when it came to him asking Conservative party leader David Cameron if he used to think about Margaret Thatcher when he had a wank. That may have raised a titter from those still smoking behind the school bike sheds but made viewers who had actually grown up blanch. Still, at least it made a change from the continued boasts about his inflated salary.

Getting paid a shitload of money to be a complete asshole is probably a good job if you can get it, but it certainly doesn’t win friends and influence people, especially when they’re paying the wages. Cutting short his holiday, BBC Director General Mark Thompson blinked like a rabbit in the headlights as inquisitors asked if Ross was worth the money. If he wasn’t available, BBC Trust chairman Sir Michael Lyons to task for being too slow to act, especially by John Humphyrs on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Once it was announced that Brand had quit, Douglas had tendered her resignation and Ross was suspended without pay, the end of the story was in sight, which meant that some of the newspapers started looking for a way to keep the story going in the vacuum between now and the Ofcom findings. It just happened that on Wednesday night, during the middle of this media shitstorm, the BBC happened to repeat an edition of Mock the Week.

On a list of “edgy” comedy that, apparently, Middle England despises, the topical panel show must certainly be up there, especially with Frankie Boyle as one of the regulars. His final suggestion to “What the Queen Didn’t Say in her Christmas Message” was just what the newspapers were looking for. Much to their consternation it turned out to be a damp squib that sputtered and died on the page.

Still, when Mark Thompson appeared on Newsnight the next night, dodging questions like whether Ross was worth the £18 million the BBC is paying him, Boyle’s joke was brought up. Unfortunately neither Jeremy Paxman nor Gavin Esler was behind the desk that night. So it was left to Emily Maitlis to suggest Boyle’s joke was offensive. When he didn’t respond immediately she was left to repeat the line: “I’m now so old my pussy is haunted”. In poor taste, possibly, but in that context, unintentionally, it was absolutely hilarious.


At 6:07 pm, Blogger Stephen Gallagher said...

And I see it's already on YouTube.

It was funny-on-purpose when Frankie Boyle said it, funny-because-it's-wrong when legflasher Em (no stranger to the stirring up of Middle England herself) gave it such po-faced repetition.

Which says something about context. Or doesn't. I dunno.

At 6:04 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

Poor old Emily getting stuck with that line. I do miss her reading the London regional news, especially since there wasn’t a desk for her to sit behind.

Boyle is a simply great comedian and luckily everyone has pretty much forgotten the comment now. Of course now, with the return of Top Gear the self righteous have good old Clarkson to sink their teach into, even if OfCom are ignoring the bleating.


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