On the 18th of October Radio 2 aired prank telephone calls from Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross to the answering machine of Andrew Sachs, the veteran actor who played Manuel in the 70s sitcom Fawlty Towers, concerning an alleged encounter between Brand and Sachs’s granddaughter.
One week later Saturday’s Mail (or Express, can’t remember – they all look the same to me) frontpaged the story, although it did receive attention in most of the other dailies.
The Times noted the show had aired late in the evening, had a listenership of about 2 million and the phonecalls had drawn two complaints from the public.
Ah, the power of the press. Since Saturday, during which time the offending material has presumably not been aired again, the BBC has received over 10,000 complaints, is under pressure to hold an urgent inquiry, sack both of the presenters and the controller, and has been the subject of questions in The House of Commons.
Indeed, spotting , at long last, a passing bandwagon the PM, Gordon the Terrible has leapt on to it with alacrity, calling for the Beeb to “discipline” the two presenters. (Perhaps he’s taking advice from Max Mosley.)
So, let’s have a little review here.
First of all I’m no particular fan of either Wossy or Russell Brand, nor of practical joke humour.
However of the people who heard the broadcast only two complained, one of whom may well have been Mr. Sachs’s agent.
Out of a population of 66 million, only 2 million were listening, that’s approxiamately 3%, and of those how many would have just had the program on as background, driving the car or enjoying a glass or two of wine for instance.
The messages were left on an answering machine, so there was no opportunity for the audience to experience Mr. Sachs’s reaction, sorry but isn’t that the point of a practical joke?
But since the press got involved a much greater number of people are aware of the incident. The recordings have been printed daily in the newspapers, so now instead of just a few people , everybody knows.
The granddaughter is said to be upset because of the effect on granddad. Granddad is upset and wants an apology for his granddaughter.
The public are upset because Manuel is a national treasure and Wossy and Brand are foulmouthed upstart motormouths who get paid far too much of licence payer’s money.
People with a sense of humour are upset because the entire premise of the joke was just not funny in the first place, oh and to be pedantic, the phrase ‘the elephant in the room’ refers to a fact that everybody knows but nobody acknowledges, imagine a group of bankers whose portfolios are full of sub-prime mortgages, talking about how mush they are worth. (That ‘mush’ is a typo but I think it’s quite appropriate really so I left it in.) It certainly doesn’t mean an alleged piece of information that other people in the conversation know nothing about and that wouldn’t be relevant in any case.
In fact the only person who may think he is benefitting from this expose by the press is Gordon himself, who senses an opportunity to put last week’s faux pas behind him.
So, tabloid editors, you could have let almost sleeping dogs snooze on, but no, you had to stir things up, making mountains out of molehills.
I just hope you are pleased with yourselves.