Saturday, 1 November 2008

Where now for Jonathan Ross

Things have certainly moved apace in the last day or two in the Russell Brand/Jonathan Ross prank phone call episode: Brand has resigned from the BBC as indeed has Radio2 controller Lesley Douglas. Ross is suspended from his BBC shows for 12 weeks without pay - a gross loss to him of about £1.5 million. It is evident that the BBC feel that they can draw a line under things, for the moment at least. Looking at the fallout so far we are told that Douglas was good at her job and was held in high esteem by Radio2's presenters. She may not be the person who agreed that particular edition of Brand's show could go on air but it was she who employed him and I can understand why she believed she should be the sacrificial lamb in this instance. Brand took the sensible decision to go anyway which obviated any need for the BBC to discipline him. But the corporation still have problems: they have to decide what action to take against whoever sanctioned this show with its obscene phone calls should hit the airwaves. Then what happens with Ross after he has served his ban? Maybe he will make the decision for them by leaving the BBC, that would be good riddance so far as I am concerned. If Ross stays I think he will have quite a job regaining acceptance from not only other employees of the BBC but the licence payer as well. Ofcom are now involved and if they decide to fine the BBC and Ross has resumed his alleged £6 million a year pay packet then one could expect a further outcry from the general public.

It's interesting to go back in time a little. I remember how in the 1950s the BBC was a highly revered institution, it was regarded rather like the doctor, the vicar and the bank manager. It was impartial, it was warm and safe. Of course commercial television had just started but this wasn't perceived as a big threat initially; I don't recall just when pirate radio had its heyday but eventually Radio1 took over from that. I do remember though the minor shock wave that arrived with 'That Was The Week That Was' fronted by David Frost in the early sixties. Suddenly satire had become mainstream. Things would never be quite the same again. As I see it I grew up in an age when rightly or wrongly standards were very clearly defined, it was all very sharp edges if you like whereas today what is or is not acceptable has become much more blurred. This is particularly the case with comedy. There has been much use in the past few days of phrases like "edgy comedy" and "pushing the boundaries" and some have used such expressions to excuse the antics of Brand and Ross. However let's be totally clear on this - what these two did was not funny in any way shape or form, it was totally unacceptable behaviour.

Although this incident was absolutely one not to be tolerated there were amazingly only two complaints prior to the 'Mail on Sunday' breaking the story. I don't know the present total of complainants but believe it is over 30,000, an extraordinary total for an incident which most would not have been aware of but for the press intervention. This reaction has shaken the BBC to the core. Here are my thoughts on just why so many folk have taken the BBC to task - I think we can assume that most of them are simply appalled at the behaviour of both Brand and Ross but because it has become such a huge story in the media and in the BBC's news programmes as well, with constant updates on numbers of complainants, then a lot of people are contacting the BBC whereas normally the story might have passed them by. In other words the whole thing has been feeding on itself. Now put into the mix that the injured party was Andrew Sachs, not just any old person but someone who, through his portrayal of Manuel in 'Fawlty Towers', has gained a lot of affection from the British public. The other thing of course is that we are aware that Ross gets a huge slice of money from the BBC (indirectly from us) and there is the perception that we shouldn't be paying a person £6 million per year for using the 'F' word down a mobile phone. This might sound a little simplistic but is basically where we are at.

The 12 week suspension for Jonathan Ross will at least give him time to come to terms with his absolute stupidity and allow him to reflect on whether he really should try to mend his career with the BBC.

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