Getting the Sachs

Wednesday, October 29, 2008 by

The Ross/Brand affair has led the BBC, yet again, into hysterical over-reaction.

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Of late, every time the corporation comes into some bother, it has seemed utterly unable to respond in a dignified and proportionate way. From the Hutton Report onwards, through the business over the Queen documentary, the rigged competitions and the fake phone-ins, the default response has been: act first, think later.

In this instance, instead of waiting for the conclusion of an internal investigation, or a report from Ofcom, it has suspended both presenters in a breathless gesture of Being Seen To Do Something. It’s a virtual admission that this particular manifestation of those raucous and long-running anti-BBC sentiments popularised by the Media Guardian and the Daily Mail is valid.

And as usual cause and effect have become all jumbled up. Listen to the supposedly ‘offensive’ broadcast again. Andrew Sachs isn’t insulted. Nor is his granddaughter. Some bad language crops up. Brand and Ross behave like juvenile idiots. No surprise there. That’s what both of them do, week in week out. I wonder how many of those 18,000 complainants are familiar with either of those two broadcasters’ regular shows. They’re not paid to be reticent. They’re not paid to be mealy-mouthed.

This demonisation of the obvious and the commonplace is absurd. What next: an outcry because somebody has just discovered Graham Norton mentioned the word “cock” on an edition of his BBC2 show 18 months ago? Or that Jim Naughtie sounded a bit tetchy during the Today programme in June 2004?

Whenever the Mail or the Guardian decides to attack the BBC, we’re all casualties. Whenever the corporation reels, the country takes two steps backwards.

Their ire is misplaced, their targets are incorrect. Don’t attack the performers. If you’re unhappy, ask why the performers are so popular, why that particular kind of humour is in fashion, and who – or what – does most to encourage celebrity worship in the first place. The answers don’t lie in Television Centre, but up Fleet Street.


25 Responses to “Getting the Sachs”

  1. Graham Kibble-White on October 29th, 2008 1:48 pm

    Hah! I’ve hastily had to delete my own blog post, which pretty much said the same thing. And that was…

    Had enough of the Ross/Brand debacle, now? I have.

    With the news now breaking to great jubilation that the duo have both been suspended from the BBC, I’m more interested in what BBC1 will parachute into the Friday Night slot this week. Suggestions, anyone? Maybe they could get Brucie to helm a full edition.

    What is most wearisome (well, aside from that witless shock jock on Breakfast this morning, whose impromptu brandishing of his pro-Brand t-shirt was superbly undercut by Bill Turbull: “While you reveal your t-shirt in support, let me just turn to…”) is how it underlines, yet again, the culture of Beeb bashing. Every year since Hutton it’s seemed the Corporation’s “evils” have been exposed to general teeth-gnashing and hand wringing from the rest of the media.

    As a result, you can’t help but feel the upper echelons at Television Centre are now in the habit of over-reacting to every wrinkle. Almost as though they’re collectively vowing, “Right, this time we will respond appropriately to crisis”. I mean, do were really need a statement from Mark Thompson about this?

    Ah well, at least he’s maintaining one noble BBC tradition – being out of the country while it all kicks off.

  2. Matthew Kilburn on October 29th, 2008 2:36 pm

    I do see how Andrew Sachs was offended by the phone call, and see how those who would not normally listen to Russell Brand (whose rise to fame I find baffling) would be offended too. However, the Daily Mail’s coverage has been the usual exercise in cynical manipulation posing as moral outrage, and Media Guardian are obviously playing their own political game.

  3. Matthew Kilburn on October 29th, 2008 2:41 pm

    I also think that the wrong person has been suspended, if there should have been suspensions at all – whatever you think of them Brand and Ross were employed to “plumb the lowest depths” (as Matthew Amroliwala has just paraphrased Gerald Kaufman on the BBC News Channel), and others were responsible for vetting their ‘antics’ and making a BBC-broadcastable programme from them.

  4. Jo on October 29th, 2008 3:15 pm

    I can’t believe it’s the presenter’s getting the stick for this…yes, they over stepped the mark – but this is Russell Brand we’re talking about. He’s been inappropriate and a complete liability from day one of his broadcasting career – why is anyone surprised? Surely it should be the person who OK’d the podcast for broadcast getting the sack here? Or the producers who said ‘Oh, ok then, this’ll be funny’ and massaged egos by letting it out in public?

    Actually, sod it…can we just sack the Daily Mail?

  5. Brian on October 29th, 2008 3:47 pm

    What’s the difference between being suspended by a media company as supposed to being sacked by a media company? Six years ago RTE here in Ireland suspended Eamon Dunphy during its world cup coverage due to him going mad because Roy Keane got sent home before it started and he supported Cameroon against Ireland much to the disgust of the public. Then he turned up drunk before the start of another match and it was then that they gave him the red card and he was not seen again until after the World Cup final on which he still works there to this day.

  6. Rob Williams on October 29th, 2008 6:51 pm

    Just to add that Russell Brand has resigned within the past hour, who will get the Radio 2 slot? Perhaps its time for Baker to come back on national radio to do a non-football show.

  7. Chris Orton on October 29th, 2008 7:32 pm

    While the media storm surrounding this story has been blown massively and completely out of all proportion I have to say that I think that it was about time Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross were brought down a peg or two. It seems to me that they are the type of people who think that they can get away with just about anything. Common decency tells you that you don’t go and phone somebody and say, “he’s f*cked your granddaughter”, whether offence was taken by the recipient or not. Common sense should tell you that you shouldn’t do this while at work: I wouldn’t expect to get away with doing something like this so why should celebrities?

    Oh, apparently Ross’s show this Friday has been replaced with the film Speed.

  8. Ian Jones on October 29th, 2008 7:41 pm

    Brand’s thrown his toys out of the pram by quitting. Still, chances are he’ll have inked a deal with Channel 4 by Monday for a new weekly chat show, where the first guests will be Andrew Sachs, his granddaughter, plus all the other ‘Satanic Sluts’ in a sketch involving answerphones and Basil Fawlty.

  9. Rob Williams on October 29th, 2008 9:05 pm

    Still its strange that all of this has come out when Mr Brand has a new series on Channel 4… Funny that…

  10. Julian D on October 29th, 2008 9:18 pm

    “Sachsgate”? Why does Mediaguardian have give each scandal a clunky name that will never be employed by anyone except Mediaguardian?

    I agree with Graham. This is typical of the BBC now (as with Hutton, and Fincham v the Queen). It takes too long to apologise and then over compensates by completely crumbling.

    Personally I thought the show was outstanding. The most exceptional radio since Chris Evans at R1 (and that ended in tears as well). But Brand was never as great when long-term sidekick Matt Morgan was away. It felt like J Ross was trying to outdo Russell on this particular show. It worked.

    Interestingly it’s R2 that ends up the controversial network in this row. When was R1 last edgy? Jocular jocks like Scott Mills are no different to the Gary Davieses and Bruno Brookeses of the 80s.

    Russell Brand DID go too far. But now without Brand…it’ll all be a bit bland.

  11. Jack Kibble-White on October 30th, 2008 12:08 pm

    Part of the problem is that there a lot of BBC journalists who have been baying for Ross’ blood ever since he made the comment back in 2007 about being worth 1000 BBC journalists. As such there are many within the corporation happy to see this story run and run.

  12. TJ Worthington on October 30th, 2008 3:14 pm

    And don’t forget Brand doing an (actually pretty good) anti-Daily Mail rant at a fairly prominent charity event a couple of years back…

    Little to add to this other than to say bravo to Ian, and in the light of the abusive replies that I’ve had to put up with after saying much the same thing elsewhere, a bit of pre-emptive support before the boneheads inevitably start piping up on here too…

  13. Steve Williams on October 30th, 2008 3:40 pm

    Funny how Media Guardian are going nuts about what this means for the Beeb, but as far as I can see, there is no mention yet about what this means for the newspaper in which he writes a column. I can’t recall what newspaper that is, though…

  14. Ian Jones on October 30th, 2008 10:14 pm

    I saw Mark Thompson on News 24 earlier this evening. I have to say my opinion of him has hit a new low. He was hopeless: waffling, contradicting himself, and appearing totally at sea. He’s always been one of the most ineffectual and timid DGs (not helped, admittedly, by following on from one of the most effective and commanding), but this whole episode, typified by this interview, has cast him in his most unflattering light yet. Thompson’s attitude throughout has been one of surrender: to the Daily Mail, to the Media Guardian, to those mysteriously-increasing “tens of thousands” of complainants. He came across in this interview as totally gutless. Why doesn’t he fight? Why doesn’t he put up a defence? Why is it always capitulation? He couldn’t even answer the question “is it right for the BBC to cause offence?” (yes it is) thereby implying the corporation has no remit to try and fail at anything. Instead a decent controller (Lesley Douglas) has fallen on her sword, just like Peter Fincham before her, while Thompson clings on.

  15. Graham Kibble-White on October 31st, 2008 11:26 am

    Guardian unveils ‘Joke Made 18 Months Ago-Gate’:

  16. Chris Orton on October 31st, 2008 3:10 pm
  17. Steve Williams on October 31st, 2008 3:45 pm

    The Mock The Week stuff is utterly ridiculous, dragging out a programme that went unremarked upon eighteen months ago. Although Mark Thompson was, indeed, a stammering fool on Newsnight last night, fair play to the man for refusing to comment while Emily Maitlis continally shouted “My pussy is haunted!” in her best “concerned” voice. Eighteen months ago!

    I also disliked, in this Newsnight interview and indeed in much of the coverage, how this is being lumped in with the Queen trailer and the phone-in stuff. They’re completely different issues. If the radiators pack up in a council office and then eighteen months later the vending machine breaks down, it’s not symptomatic of the council collapsing, it’s two unrelated issues. As this is. In one breath people complain the Beeb is too big and out of control, then they argue as if Russell Brand and Richard Marson were sharing an office.

    Undoubtedly the worst thing about all this, though, was the appearance on the news the other day of a media figure calling for Ross and Brand to apologise or be sacked… Kelvin MacKenzie! Anyone in a news organisation who thinks that that repellent turd has any right to force people to apologise, given his twenty years of non-stop pissing on graves, should themselves be fired on the spot.

  18. Graham Kibble-White on October 31st, 2008 4:17 pm

    Ooo, and Jonathan Ross has now pulled out of the Comedy Awards. I wonder if he’s been surprised at – apparently – how poorly the public think of him?

  19. Rob Williams on November 1st, 2008 12:45 pm

    The interesting view about this has been that it seems that the younger generation’s view has been ignored in reporting, because they would back Brand and Ross. I wonder what Hugh Carlton-Greene would have made of it or perhaps we are scared of a new age of taking risks….

  20. Jon on November 1st, 2008 2:16 pm

    I know this has little to do with the Ross/Brand thing, but I think it is interesting that this issue, massively overblown as it is, has prompted some discussion about general standards in TV comedy.

    I have to say that I feel things have perhaps gone a bit far. Am I the only person surprised, and slightly shocked, at the frequency with which the f-word is now used on mainstream BBC1 comedy shows? As little as 15 years ago, the F-word was not allowed on ANY BBC comedy shows, even on BBC2. As an avid viewer of TV comedy, the first instance I can remember was in the first series on The Fast Show where it was used once in a 6-art series. I don’t believe it was used again until the first series of I’m Alan Partridge, again once in a series. As little as 4 or 5 years ago, such language would never have made it onto a BBC1 comedy or entertainment show. Yet now, even shows like “Would I Lie To You”, broadcast directly after 9pm on BBC1 will routinely include 3 or 4 uses of “strong language”. It’s not a problem for me generally, but I can’t help but find it embarrasing if I’m watching TV with my Gran in the room, and it severely limits what you can watch with the kids around.

  21. John G on November 1st, 2008 3:18 pm

    Spaking as someone who probably just about counts as the “younger generation” (I’m 29), I have no sympathy whatever for Brand and Ross. Risk-taking, “edgy” humour has its place, and I’m not about to suggest that we go back to the 50s, but these phone calls went too far. Andrew Sachs was not “fair game,” and was clearly offended by the messages that were left. How would Ross like it if someone left messages on his answer phone claiming to have had sex with his daughters? Doubtless the press have had ulterior motives in their pursuit of this story, but I think strong action needed to be taken for what was a borderline criminal offence.

  22. Nimrod Gently on November 1st, 2008 6:53 pm

    The licence fee is the best and worst aspect of the BBC. It gives the corporation great freedom and scope, but it also makes them very, very vulnerable indeed because a lot of people will always resent having to actually pay for goods and services. The Mail and the MG between them might just have enough clout to potentially kill the corporation, by which I mean the licence fee. No wonder they’re thin-skinned.

    To be honest, I think Brand resigning was fair enough and suspending Ross was too, and maybe fire the imbecile of a producer who let the (pre-recorded) item be aired. But that’s about it.

    The Daily Mail’s drooling hatred of the Corporation I can understand, being the UK’s most explicitly facistic newspaper, but I remain baffled by MediaGuardian. It’s the Guardian for God’s sake.

  23. Simon Rueben on November 1st, 2008 7:55 pm

    And now to make matters worse Parky is wading in with his wisdom over the matter: In summary, he hates Brand, quite like Ross, and adds nothing new to anything here.

  24. Glenn Aylett on November 2nd, 2008 11:59 pm

    While I think Brand and Ross’s behaviour was well out of order, it must pale into insignificance compared with that foul mouthed bore fest on Channel 4 called Big Brother where the f word is used almost non stop. I can’t condone Brand and Ross’s behaviour, but Channel 4 still allow this obnoxious programme to go out every summer night when they know millions of youngsters are still watching. I would much rather have this trash stopped than a lapse in taste by two broadcasters who have overstepped the mark once. Anyway, the audience figure for a Saturday night radio show must be a tenth of that which tunes into Big Brother.

  25. Daddy Fantastic on December 20th, 2008 9:29 pm

    Regardless of the Daily Mail, Georgina Baillie or the BBC, I’m quite happy to see both Ross and Brand off the air, Ross’s humour relies on stupidity and bad language, while Brands inconvincible smug confidence has no place on my radio or TV. Ross has had the ability to be articulate and knowledgeable, particularly regarding Film and Japanese culture but the most part I still feel their punishment is far too lax, and I genuinely dread their return.