Thursday, 30 October 2008

Brand and Ross debate- blown out of proportion?

First published at

“…just a storm in a teacup really…” famous words from his first DVD – Russell Brand Live – that he must now wish could be used to describe this incident.

But it seems many people aren’t going to forgive and forget quite as easily as Rod Stewart did in that anecdote after Brand claimed he’d “had a go on his daughter.”

Obviously, the incident to which I’m referring is Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross being reprimanded after leaving messages on the answering machine of Andrew Sachs- who played Manuel in Fawlty Towers- concerning the sexual exploits of his granddaughter and “legendary swordsman” Brand. A misjudged prank gone terribly wrong.

The pace has been pretty swift. As I write this, the number of complaints is over 35,000, Ross has been suspended for 3 months without pay, the BBC Radio 2 controller has resigned and even the Beeb’s Chief Executive’s post has been called into question. All after Brand quit the show yesterday.

But is this all really necessary? Much of the outrage has come from Sachs’ granddaughter, Georgina Baillie, the comments were about her after all. Although her grandfather has said he doesn’t want to take it any further, and that as an actor himself in the creative industry, he understands that a joke can go wrong.

But has her outrage been less about protecting her grandfather’s interests, and more about self-promotion? She is after all an aspiring model, and a member of a burlesque tropue called Satanic Sluts. Baillie has forfeited her privacy in an exclusive video with The Sun and has come out to say: “that despite his [Brand’s] ladies’ man reputation, he was a “disappointment” in bed.”

Let’s hope her assumed-rather-sensitive grandfather doesn’t read that then. So who is it that really believes they have been wronged by the broadcast? It can’t be those who actually listened to it, as, of the 2million listeners, they received only two complaints before it was taken off-air.

Is it Sachs’ ‘national treasure status’ that’s got 35,000 people who probably didn’t hear the broadcast outraged and on the phone? Because frankly, apart from playing Manuel in Fawlty Towers, which ran for two series of six episodes in the 1970s, I’m lost.

The show was pre-recorded. More than one person, the producer, the BBC Radio 2 Controller could have stopped the show airing if they’d thought it would be offensive. Conspiracy theorists have started to wonder whether the show was aired anyway to get higher ratings- any publicity is good publicity.

Intentional or not, all of those involved, the station and the stars have been thrown right into the spotlight.Other conspiracy theorists- oh yes, they do love a good counter-theory- might go so far as to say that a rival TV programmer or newspaper (not mentioning any names) might have paid the pair to bring the Big British Castle down from the inside out.

A little far-fetched? Or is this a bit of middle-England scare-mongering convincing as many people as possible that a) that society and particularly the youth of today is going to the dogs (still, again and more) and b) the BBC is some kind of supporter/purveyor of this and should have their ‘privilege’ of being funded by a licence fee taken away.

This comment was left on the telegraph website: “Ross and Brand and many useless celebrities reflect what is wrong with many of the youth of modern Britain. Obsessed with moronic pop music, poor discipline, know it all, foul mouthed, untidy and in pursuit of the easy life and easy sex.”

Bit of a sweeping statement? Ross and Brand are actually 47 and 35 respectively. Hardly representatives of British youth. They appeal to many ages, Brand particularly to those with a less-mainstream taste in comedy.

And I’d still almost consider myself, and a lot of people I know, as a part of the modern youth. I’d like to think that a lot of the accusations aren’t true. And if there are youths with these kind of problems, there is more than just pop music to blame.

As for the ‘ivory tower’ that is being the BBC. The BBC does not depend on advertising, which can be good, but as comedian Ricky Gervais has said, he wouldn’t have aired The Office on BBC One as it would be changed beyond recognition due to the constraints the BBC is under.

There is little room for diversity and creativity due to the remit, so viewers easily go elsewhere. Comedy is a particularly boundary-pushing- in this case crossing- area, so the BBC can have little dealing with it. And are about to have much less due to the latest developments.

So they aren’t always laughing all the way to the bank. The youth are not to blame, they barely have their say even on any network. And the BBC is by no means a maverick, especially in comedy.

We shouldn’t let this stupid joke, on the part of two edgier than some comedians, grow into something worse. It has gone too far already. A mistake, yes, but not the end of humanity.

Comedy is but a small part of what could shape who we are.

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