Wednesday, 29 October 2008

"He fucked your Granddaughter!"

Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross… where do I start?!!!

(For those who’d like a quick précis of the story, click here)

I think we need to separate 2 things here.

1 - What happened on the radio and why
2 - The reaction to it

What happened on the radio and why
Let’s take the first of these. When you tune into Russell Brand’s show on BBC Radio 2, you do so probably in the knowledge that it will be mix of obvious innuendo, childish pranks, indulgent narcissism, multiple drug references and decadent interviews. It’s like no other show on the radio. That’s what makes it good. That’s what I pay my licence fee for… to have something different and challenging that the market doesn't provide.

So, when I hear that Russell Brand and his guest on that week’s show, Jonathan Ross, left offensive answer-phone messages for actor Andrew Sachs, then it hardly surprised me. Out of the 4 messages they left (!) the first one did the real damage. Take a listen right now...

Now, did they cross the line? Probably… yes. Was it funny? Depends on whether you find that kind of thing amusing. (It did make me laugh – but I’m very liberal and don’t read The Daily Mail) It was actually Jonathan who blurted out the most offensive bit. But the real issue is not the fact that 2 talented and well-loved presenters went too far. (Many presenters have gone too far in the past) The real issue is that the show was pre-recorded and the whole thing could have been avoided if the Producer or Senior Producer had spotted that this might blow up in their face. So, if anyone should take some heat, it should be them… and not the presenters.

I want presenters like that to take risks. Russell Brand was not hired by Lesley Douglas to play “10 in a Row”. That’s what he’s there for: to push boundaries. And that’s what producers are there for: to know where the line is. The production system failed, not the presenters. But that's not a sexy story.

The reaction to it
So a couple of listeners complain when they hear it, but the main damage is done by a Mail on Sunday journalist who picks up the story and calls Sach’s agent for a comment and then runs with it. As a result of that, Andrew Sachs makes a complaint to the BBC. That’s then picked up by the mainstream media as they all know that this is a story that will sell newspapers, increase viewers on TV shows etc. It’s about 2 of the UK’s most high profile media stars, so its light relief from the ‘Credit Crunch’ and ‘Recession’ doom and gloom stories that don’t sell papers.

Then as soon as the press get hold of it, the snowball effect happens. After a relatively minor number of complaints, people who haven’t even heard the original broadcast start to complain. They’re complaining about something that they didn’t hear, and weren’t originally offended by. They’re just complaining about the fact that it happened. Complaints breed complaints. Remember the Big Brother race row? And what has happened here is that those people who don’t like Brand or Ross and what they stand for finally have an opportunity to stick their small knife in, hoping for ‘death by a thousand cuts’. There is no doubt that ‘Middle England’ still has an enormous voice when it comes to morale outrage.

Once that Middle England is morally outraged, then it’s only a matter of time before Gordon Brown and David Cameron get dragged it to the debate, both eager to deplore a decline in standards within the BBC etc. One conservative MP today has suggested that Radio 2 encourages anti-social behaviour!! Oh dear.

As the story gathers pace and the front pages of national newspapers are packed with the details, the BBC has to act. It’s constantly afraid of having its wings clipped as a result of appearing too liberal so it has to do something seen as ‘strong’ and ‘in touch with the sentiment of the nation’ And it has just acted, suspending both Brand and Ross. And there we have it. Two of the most talented broadcasters in the country are suspended for mistake that a Senior Producer has made in allowing the item to be broadcast.
It’s part of the British disease. We like to build people up, but we seem to revel in a moral panic that allows us to drag them down again. It’s un-British to be too successful (especially if you’re being paid licence fee payers money.) This rather sanctimonious standpoint is nearly always driven by the tawdry organ of hate, otherwise known as The Daily Mail / Mail on Sunday. I’m embarrassed that those papers are read by so many, otherwise normal, people in this country. One ironic twist to the whole thing; Andrew Sachs says he now wishes the whole thing would go away. Well Andrew, it’s unlikely to if your Granddaughter, the lovely Georgina Baillie (a member of Satanic Sluts!), sells her story to The Sun for a front page spread. Just a thought.

So – no doubt this will rumble on until a scalp is claimed and peace and order can be restored to 'this Sceptred Isle'! And I’m sure I’ll again feel obliged to defend the need for talent to be allowed to push boundaries and encouraged to take risks. I’ll also feel obliged to write about the need for Senior Producers to understand more effectively how to edit out pieces of pre-recorded audio that are going to cause a national crisis!!


Anonymous said...

Hear Hear

Anonymous said...

Holy Sh*t - where do we live, America? The land of the Prude?

The people who listen to this show know full well the kind of content they are likely to hear. The majority of people who have commented will never have listened in the first place anyway. Sdaly these guys are victims of the listen again culture, not that we should blame that either.

If anyone needs to be disciplined by the BBC it should be the producer, who at the end of the day is the person who, on behalf of the BBC, should have stamped on this if it was considered to be contentious. It wasn't live and therefore the BBC had every chance to leave this on the cutting room floor. Instead we now have two of our most innovative presenters in the dock for pushing the boundaries. Once again a win for the minority who want the whole world painted magnolia.

Hooray for england in 2008.

Paul said...

Agree with your comments - but I think it's wrong to say the Mail on Sunday reporter did "the main damage". He was doing his job - he heard the show, thought it was odd and followed it up. It's what journalists do.

Anonymous said...

I think you might enjoy b3ta's take on the inevitable next steps in the furore...


Will said...

Good article- Not really feeling Pauls comment though. Doing ones job doesn't make you immune from accusations of 'causing damage'

The job of a Daily Mail reporter IS to cause damage- to scare people into thinking the country is falling down around their ears!

As I said to my dear old mum just yesterday, however- a vote against Brand and Ross and their schoolboy prank is a vote FOR 'Satanic Sluts' and lesbian strap on porn. You choose. ;)

Colin Kelly said...

Enjoyed reading your analysis Nik. My point is that you've identified exactly why we need a lean, mean BBC.

If it was properly united with everyone pulling in the same direction then they'd be able to either prevent issues like this, or deal with them quickly and effectively when they did occur.

I hope the BBC comes out of this stronger.