The top story on the BBC News website is currently this on the furore surrounding Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross as Gordon Brown wades his sorry way in. I am sorry, but I really do struggle to believe that this is the most important story around at the moment.

In fact, once you put the pieces together, the whole thing looks as though the BBC has been completely stitched up. The phone calls may have been ill-advised, all the more so due to the fact that it was pre-recorded and yet was still broadcast.

But there are too many things about this that just don’t add up for me. I haven’t heard the clip, but having read the transcript it seems very much as though Jonathan Ross was easily the more offensive of the pair. So why is most of the criticism going the way of Russell Brand?

Then there is the time line of events. The story only entered the news agenda a full week and a half after the phone calls were made, and one whole week after they were broadcast. For something supposedly so shocking, people sure took a long time to realise it.

Alarm bells should automatically be ringing when you see that the paper that has stoked up this little fire is the contemptible Mail on Sunday. This has all the hallmarks of a despicable tabloid rag using any excuse to lay into the BBC.

Last Wednesday the Mail on Sunday phoned up Andrew Sachs’s agent, Meg Pool, for a comment. That was the first she — and, incidentally, Andrew Sachs himself — had ever heard of the phone calls. But, probably sniffing the opportunity to get lots of publicity, she began to kick up a fuss.

All the while, the amount of complaints the BBC had received by this time was a grand total of… two. And they were about Jonathan Ross’s swearing, not the nature of the phone calls. Post-Mail on Sunday foot-stomping, the figure stands at 10,000 and rising. It looks to me as though this story is all about the public’s love of a good old bandwagon.

And what does Andrew Sachs say? “[T]he producer called me on my mobile to ask whether they could play the recording in question out.” So the BBC sought permission before broadcasting it. And: “I think Jonathan [Ross] is in enough trouble as it is. I don’t want to add to that.”

That is how it should be. Of course Andrew Sachs should get an apology from both Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross. It looks like he has got it (or in the case of Brand, will get it). Beyond that, the rest of this story stinks of a tabloid rag spying the opportunity to criticise the BBC for the most tenuous reason.

Update: I see that Will Patterson agrees with me.

14 comments

  1. Thankyou. The financial markets are crashing down, American politics may be entering a new epoch, and all I’m hearing on the news is this garbage. Yes it was out of line, but the Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition criticising a radio show? Spare me.

    (PS. I think you’ve got one too many ‘grand total’s towards the end…)

  2. Thanks for pointing that out Keith — I’ve sorted that out now.

    I could understand the fuss up to a point. But when I saw that David Cameron and Gordon Brown had made a comment on the issue, I knew it had gone too far. Aren’t there more important things going on?…

  3. In fairness to both politicians, did either of them proactively put out a line on this? If so then the criticism above would be valid.

    However in the case of the PM I presumed he was asked about this during a press conference? If so it’s hard for him to refuse to answer.

    Doing so would be a story in itself and certainly lead to accusations either of not knowing what’s happening or not caring. Not great either way.

    If any criticism is to be levelled (and assuming it was done at a press conference) surely this should be aimed at the journalist that thought this was the top issue of the moment, rather than a politician who simply replied to a question?

  4. In the case of the PM I presumed he was asked about this during a press conference? If so it’s hard for him to refuse to answer.

    “Don’t you think I’ve got better things to worry about?” would have sufficed. It’d’ve got my vote :-)

  5. IoC — I agree with you. My beef is with the media hysteria as a whole. Whether a journalist asked Gordon Brown or he came out with it himself, it shows a complete lack of proportion.

  6. I think it is symptomatic of something. There has been a lot of anger about in a wide section of society at the decadent culture which the BBC promotes.

    You may not like it that it took a couple of weeks to get its voice heard, but the anger is still an authentic voice of a significant section of the population who are fed up with dumbed down cultural impunity.

    I listened to the show and saw the TV images and was appalled by the obnoxious behaviour of Brand and Ross. Why should they be allowed to earn their very generous crust at the unaccountable expense of ordinary law abiding people when they behave in this unacceptable manner?

    I agree that there are many other important issues about, but that is no reason to ignore the irresponsibility and bullying they have engaged in. The BBC needs to explain itself and ensure this kind of thing stops. A fair response if this were done in any other work place, would be to sack them. Making abusive phone calls is, after all, a criminal offense.

  7. Goodo, for a while I thought either it was just me that was a little bit baffled and more than a tad nonplussed by this all. Wake me up when the teacup’s a bit calmer will you.

  8. Great post — More background & “perspective” on here…

    http://manmademound.blogspot.com/2008/10/worse-than-obama.html

  9. It really is the pits isn’t it? I didn’t hear the show, but considering stuff I’ve heard from both Brand and Ross in the past I’m really unconvinced this is the worst thing either of them have done.

    Yes, the fact it was pre-recorded should probably have meant it shouldn’t have been broadcast but even that doesn’t warrant all this crap.

    From what I’ve seen politics-wise, the PM seemed to be trying to give a generic answer but Cameron was a bit more forthright on having to have an inquiry, etc.

    What a complete waste of everyone’s time and money.

  10. Nic

    Ross and Brand were a bit out of order (from what I heard of the show, it was mainly Jonathan Ross pushing the point), but that is what the editorial process is for, otherwise the show would go out live.

    Apparently there were only TWO complaints when the show originally aired, so the rest of the people who complained must have sought out the item in order to be offended by it, which is pretty sad!

    Contrast this with Chris Moyles (with his £630,000-a-year salary), he is sexist, racist and homophobic, yet I don’t remember the Daily Mail or its readers getting their knickers in a twist when Moyles referred to female listeners as “dirty whores”, nor when he called Victoria Beckham “a whore” on air, not when he upset guest Halle Berry, who later accused Moyles of having “a racist moment”. There was also controversy over homophobic comments and used of the f-word on air. He has done the show drunk and also not turned up to broadcast (and all of this is on his fan site, so he is clearly proud of it). Well worth over half a million a year of licence payers money? I think not!

    I guess that you have to offend a straight white man before anyone gets upset (though I don’t get the impression that Andrew Sachs is actually that upset about what happened).

    As for the politicians, well clearly this story was a great boost to Gordon Brown, while the airwaves are full of discussion about this non-story, no one is talking about the important stuff, like the fact that the economy is in serious trouble and the government don’t seem to know what to do about it!

  11. Vicky

    I heard the show at the time of broadcast and it *was* cringeworthy and not up to the usual standard. Ross and Brand’s radio shows are – IMO – both very funny when they can be bothered to write decent material; which is, after all, why they are on primetime radio.

    If they can’t be arsed to use their writing talent, instead relying on rude prank calls and boasting about who they’ve slept with for LOLs, then they need to make way for other presenters – of who I’m sure there are many – queueing for the opportunity.

    That’s the only reason I’d want to see either of them given the boot – not because some revolting tabloid, or 10000 people who have probably never even listened to the show, are getting their knickers in a twist.

  12. I agree, the UK has lost it’s sense of proportion.

    The BBC have played into Ms Baillee’s hands, and are giving her more exposure every day.

    It’s a predictable response from the BBC, concerned about all the complaints from Middle England’s wifeswappers. Personally I’m more offended by Eastenders and Strictly Come Dancing.

    http://www.the-comedy-writer.com

  13. My guess is that people are more upset at Brand than Ross because it’s his name on the show and people assume that a host is, to some extent, responsible for his guests.

    I didn’t like what I heard happened, but I know Russell Brand’s sense of humour is generally offensive to me, so I’m not surprised I didn’t like it. Though I would have thought Radio 1 was a more fitting location for that type of material than Radio 2 anyway. Maybe the producers were caught out by the listenership of that programme (I can’t see the Mail On Sunday paying quite so much attention to Radio 1 because it’s not seen as “middle class”)… It wouldn’t have occurred to me to seek out his material just so I could register an official complaint. Mum reckons it’s symptomatic of the YouTube generation, but I think it’s the age-old problem that some people just need something to complain about.

  14. [...] I had seen a couple of other posts on the Russell Brand / Jonathan Ross sex-phone scandal storm in a teacup from Clairwil and Bernard Salmon. And I added my own thoughts here. [...]