Tuesday, November 4, 2008

what the hell was all that about?


Tomorrow nighttargeted: Georgina Baillie, Channel 5 will broadcast a documentary featuring a burlesque artiste with the name Voluptua with a title similar to the above, although being a fan of customisation I've chosen my own imprecation.

For those unsure of the situation, the Daily Mail's Melanie Philips published an article on 27 October detailing the implications of a situation that not many of us were aware of: on Saturday, October 18, Russell Brand had Jonathan Ross as a guest on his BBC 2 radio show. Andrew Sachs, a venerable veteran of TV and radio, was due to do an interview over the phone, but was unavailable, therefore messages were left. The messages were about sexual relations the pair, but especially Ross, claimed to have had with Sachs' granddaughter, Georgina Baillie (Voluptua), and an attempted apology in the form of a song was even more explicit; their view was the immature, sexist and even misogynist one that if a woman does a certain job then she is "fair game" - and so, apparently, is her 78-year-old granddad.

The show has an audience of about 400,000 mostly young people (comtargeted: Halle Berrypared with, say, 8 million of all ages for the station's Sir Terry Wogan), so comment on the show initially eddied lazily around various Facebooks, Bebo's, etc. Two complaints were made, after which the segment was pulled from the show's podcast and listen-again site.

After Ms Philip's article, complaints had reached 18,000 by 31 October, and around another 20,000 accumulated in another two days. The BBC called it a record number, but that record actually belongs to Jerry Springer - The Opera (63,000 complaints with no heads rolled).

To cut things short, on 29 October - a full 11 days after the incident, Brand and Ross were suspended, and Brand resigned. The following day Radio 2 Controller Lesley Thomas, who had worked her way up from the post of production assistant, resigned.

What the controversy was about was that the show was not broadcast live, but had been recorded beforehand so that a producer could check through for offensive material. None was marked up on the appropriate sheet. The two managers over the producer were on holiday - but isn't that what the on-call system is for?

Even so, the person there with the sheet should have known that putting Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand in the same room would require going through the recording with a fine-tooth comb, because both of these figures have form.

Jonathan Ross has sexually humiliated Gwyneth Paltrow, Nicole Kidman and Halle Berry, among others, on his Friday night TV show. Russell Brand showed up for a show dressed as Osama bin Laden on September 12 2001, called George Bush a "retarded cowboy" on TV, and on the same MTV awards show claimed to have "won" a purity ring - a sign of a vow to remain chaste until marriage popular in the US - from a male star. (Could be that he was feeding his sex addiction, except he seems to regard sex with relish. Take it from a former addictions worker, Russell, if you experience significant positive reinforcement - ie if you enjoy it - it's not an addiction...)

The political reaction has been strong - so much so that the incident stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the American election and the recession in last week's Spectator. David Cameron said, "we need to know who made the decision to broadcast it? How high up the editorial chain did it go? Who examined it? Why did they conclude that it should be broadcast?" Having said that, Ross burnt his boats there when he made obscene remarks to the Conservative leader about Baroness Thatcher on his show; I'd like to know whether he merely wanted to take Cameron down a peg, or was also under instructions to do so.

The Prime Minister demanded that the BBC take "appropriate action." In the light of what a report by the "Stop BBC Bias" group in 2004 alleging a "cosy" relationship between the two organisations with frequent "job-swapping", including Tom Kelly, Martin Sixsmith and Bill Bush, what "appropriate action" might be makes the mind boggle.

Mary Whitehouse might not have approved of Baillie's burlesque group, the Satanic Sluts, but she would have known right away how to deal with Brand's and Ross's treatment of hte performer. She would have written to the Prime Minister to say that legally it was the Government who was responsible for the BBC - because they had no answer to this, then PM Harold Wilson's office's reaction was to "lose" the letters. In similar fashion, the BBC initially appeared to have "lost" Andrew Sachs' complaint about the Brand/Ross phone calls, but was later forced to admit that this was a lie.
targeted: Nicole Kidman
BBC Director General Mark Thompson seems to be getting ready to go for the Gordon Brown award for mobilising lifeboats from the ship you've just scuttled by saying how quickly the BBC (eventually) reacted. No doubt, as in any monolithic organisation, he'll then proceed to airbrush out the truth by dissolving the facts in a deconstructionist substrate that leaves nothing but a series of narrative strands of equal (ie no) value. He will then invest in Ross and Brand's future by piling all the corporation's sins upon their back, thus facilitating their eventual return as victims. Except...it's happened again.

On Sunday night, a show that Jeremy Clarkson had pre-recorded and that was passed by BBC executives was broadcast, containing Clarkson's assertion that being a lorry driver is "a hard job - change gear, change gear, change gear, check your mirrors, murder a prostitute, change gear, change gear, murder" (possibly a reference to the conviction of a lorry-driver - the "Suffolk Strangler" - in Ipswich earlier this year for murdering five prostitutes).

We need to respond to the BBC's constant attempts to corrupt our children, attatargeted: Gwyneth Paltrowck our faiths and abuse uninvolved bystanders by complaining, complaining and complaining again - and not settling for the bug letter.

Apart from obviously Mr Sachs, the greatest injustice in this case seems to have been visited upon Lesley Douglas - I wish she hadn't seen, or been shown, the need to resign. The incident happened on Mark Thompson's shift as well as hers. She caused consternation with her decisions to hire Chris Evans for the drivetime show and Jeremy Vine to take over Sir Jimmy Young's talk-show, but was proved to have a sense for pure gold.

Part and parcel of being as senior as Mark Thompson is includes 24/7 responsibility - everything that happens does so on your shift; as the sign on US President Harry Truman's desk proclaimed, "The Buck Stops Here". Hopefully, as Mr Thompson realises that this isn't going to go away, he will realise the wisdom of inviting her back for some tea and humble pie.

Related posts:

the bug letter: when 1 is more than 63,000

strictly sociopathic - the BBC has bullied us enough

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