I Don’t normally write about this sort of thing, but this is crazy.
Trying to ascertain the facts is almost impossible, even though supposed quality broadsheets have written huge amounts about it.
So what happened?
- Russell Brand has an evening radio show on Radio 2.
- This is pre-recorded (really? every week? this is the biggest scandal!)
- Last week he had Jonathan Ross on the show (presumably to promote his book), though it has never been made clear whether he was co-presenting or a guest
- Andrew Sachs – an actor who was in Faulty Towers – was due to be interviewed on the phone to promote a TV show.
- Andrew is 78
- Russell phones Andrew while chatting to Jonathan, there is much banter going on, both are known for it.
- When they are put through to the answer phone the banter continues, references about Andrew’s granddaughter are made, including implying Russell has slept with her, though these are done in a somewhat joking fashion (Brand: “Andrew Sachs, I did not do nothing with Georgina – oh no I’ve revealed I know her name”)
- The Granddaughter is currently touring in Satanic Sluts burlesque group.
- Various reports (including the Times, which is less inaccurate than most of the press) said she had slept with Russell.
- Reports keep on referring to them talking about Andrew Sachs killing himself on hearing the talk about his granddaughter, though the one edited transcript I have seen does not mention this at all.
- After the show was recorded, the Times claims that a junior produce contacted Andrew Sachs to confirm it was ok to be played on air (which I understand is actually normal practice), though does not state if they actually got permission, i.e. what his response was. (from the times) Apparently a senior executive (or senior editor – to me there’s quite a difference between an executive or editor) vetted the recording before going out, presumably due to the new guidelines which mean senior staff (above the show’s producer) have to sign off controversial content.
- After the show went out there were, apparently, two complaints.
- Roughly a week later the Mail reports on it, and then 18,000 more complaints are made, one wonders how many have actually listened.
Since Tuesday this has been at the top of every major UK news site, including the websites of the ‘broadsheets’. Ultimately it is all about a few minutes of talk left on an answering machine.
Many news outlets are playing on the actor’s age – how dare they leave comments on the answering machine of an old man! Setting the scene as if they picked on him at random, and insult his innocent granddaughter too! They implied Russell had slept with his granddaughter, how dare they! I was already bored of hearing about all of this before I had heard that it was not a random call to a random old person, and something had happened between Brand and the granddaughter.
Ineresting quote: “I have not seen or spoken to Georgina yet. She’s very upset at having put her family through this and she feels very guilty,” – hmmm, if two family members are wrapped up in a media storm, and one has continually spoken to various papers to say she is worried for her Granddad, it seems surprising she has not yet spoken to him at all. (also of note, that direct quote from a Times article ends with a comma, bit of hasty commenting there of their part, what did they decide to cut?)
He also says, from the same article: “Jonathan Ross has personally delivered a letter of apology and some flowers. He made no excuses and was very frank and open. He’s in a lot of trouble and I don’t want to pile any more on him.
Gordon Brown was silly to step in, it trivialises his position, especially if he hasn’t heard it. Of course Journalists will ask him during a press briefing, it’s up to him to say ‘I’m not going to comment on something I have not heard’.
This really wasn’t a very unusual thing: a couple of well known presenters, known for their edgy and sex based banter acting like kids and leaving inappropriate messages. I’ve heard worse. The fact the whole media has pushed this to the top of the news agenda is amazing and disappointing, and anyone who acts on complaints from those who didn’t hear a particular broadcast but did read about it a week later, is making a bad judgement or simply weak.
It’s ironic that the Daily Mail, who are the most ardent that our TV Licence fee is being badly spent, should provoke 18,000 complaints, the processing of which (and dealing with the media uproar) will probably be one of the biggest waste of licence fee money I can think of. I’m always slightly confused why people are so aggressive about the licence fee, how its spent, and its supposed logical entitlement for us all to be the BBC’s owners, yet at the same time the same people are happy to pay far more to Sky and yet have no feeling of ownership or entitlement. Why do people not feel it is their right to demand the sacking of those at Sky when they do something we don’t like, yet we do of the BBC?
It seems that the press have almost chosen which facts to report and which to ignore, and yet they seem crucial in deciding if this is a storm in a teacup or a genuine issue. When were those complaints made? did Andrew Sachs give permission for it to go out? Had he complained about it, and had anything been done (or in process of) as a result?
My main fear is such storms in a teacup kill creativity. If every producer and comminisher lives in fear of this sort of thing, then any risky show will be axed or curtailed to keep within tight restrictions, then new and originally programs will suffer. It’s not about letting childish DJs be rude to an old man. It is about letting them be themselves without having to follow a pre-approved script, sometimes those who create original shows put a step in the wrong direction. That’s the nature of doing something different.
Will the controller of Radio2 take on someone like Brand of Ross again, or give them such freedom? Probably not (in the near future at least), instead ‘safe’ DJs. A sad thing.
UPDATE: Mark Lawson has a good comment piece which manages to cover much of what I was trying to say in a much more elegant manner.