No orchids for Mr Brand

No question the hottest story of the week has been Brandgate, pushing Robert Peston and the recession off the front pages and onto the backburner. Things moved fast today when the BBC announced first the suspension of Brand and co-broadcaster Jonathan Ross, then Brand’s resignation. The fate of Ross remains unknown but Brand was always going to be more expendable than Ross. Brand has already been sacked from three commercial radio and TV channels and has a track record in poor-taste prank calls.

I’ve enjoyed Ross since his screen debut on The Last Resort on C4 in the mid-80s. I listen to his Saturday show pretty much every week and tune in most weeks to the Friday TV show. I’m all in favour of edgy comedy too, comedians should push boundaries, but there was nothing edgy about invading an elderly man’s privacy (and his granddaughter’s), nor being abusive when he couldn’t answer back. It simply was not funny. Prank calls are fine when all parties are consenting and in on the joke. This was not one of those occasions.

I felt extremely upset for Georgina Baillie, who was the other innocent party in this. One may question the wisdom of having sex with Brand, who is not exactly known for discretion, but that did not give him the right to brag about this particular conquest to her grandfather. Both English common law and the European Convention enshrine the right to privacy and recent court decisions are now enforcing this more strictly than in the past. Certainly within our families we should expect a right to privacy where our sex lives are concerned. Baillie’s privacy was breached not once but twice. First by Brand calling up Andrew Sachs then by the BBC for broadcasting it.

There are really three issues at the crux of Brandgate. Firstly, there is the right to privacy (and let’s not forget that Sachs had his privacy invaded too). Secondly, the BBC is a publicly funded institution and is therefore publicly accountable. I think this particularly applies when highly paid talent such as Ross and Brand are involved in such gross lapses of judgment. I’m not going to join the braying mob because action has already been taken and, besides, Brand’s sensible decision to resign will appease the mob somewhat. No doubt he took advice suggesting it was better to go before he was pushed. More importantly, the show was prerecorded. Those who took the decision to go ahead and broadcast it unedited will undoubtedly pay for their errors. There are already question marks hanging over the future of the licence fee.

At £135 a year, I find the BBC very good value for money, offering around eight TV channels and nearly a dozen national radio stations, plus all the regional output. It does an extraordinarily good job within the constraints it is bound by and iut is the envy of the world as a public service broadcaster. Yet those who are calling for the abolition of the licence fee are the same people who happily fork out £30 a month for satellite services, many of whose programmes are of far poorer quality. It would be a tragedy if Brandgate were to smash wide open the possibility of the BBC having to change its funding model.

Thirdly, there are grounds for criminal prosecution on possible charges of harassment. While Sachs has stated he will not make a complaint to the police, there is still the matter of the Ofcom investigation and the police could, of course, press charges anyway if they felt the grounds for a successful prosecution were strong enough.

John Harris in the Guardian today makes some very pertinent points about how and why the BBC has found itself in this mess. It’s not just the BBC though. There has been a coarsening across the board in all broadcast output, a sea change that reflects the rapid changes that have taken place in society over the last few decades. The volume of complaints received echoes that over the Goody/Shetty furore in Celebrity Big Brother last year. We should see this is as sign that the public is very aware when lines are crossed and will not hesitate to speak up. I do not believe that TV has dumbed down that much but I do think programme makers need to understand that common decency has to be a linchpin of broadcast output.

10 thoughts on “No orchids for Mr Brand”

  1. – Putting –gate at the end of something doesn’t automatically give it any more legitimacy

    – Sachs consented to the clip being broadcast providing it was “toned down” a bit, according to the Graun. He later claimed he hadn’t understood what was played. Hmm. Perhaps don’t agree to go on a show presented by Russell Brand next time, mate?

    – Several parts of the interview were edited out according to reports I’ve read and heard, so it’s incorrect to say it ran unedited – the remarks about breaking in to the house and sexually assaulting Mr Sachs were not broadcast, in fact.

    – The Mail – morally outraged on a poor, elderly man’s behalf – opted to run the full transcript included those sections the BBC edited out prior to broadcast. So who exactly is more guilty of breaching Sach’s trust?

    – As for the grandaughter’s privacy, personally I think her decision to “break her silence” in the Sun, complete with saucy photographs and numerous mentions of her burlesque act, modelling ambitions etc kinda undermines the idea of her being devastated by any alleged invasion of privacy.

    Personally, I expect Brand simply couldn’t be arsed to keep presenting a show where he was simply a pawn in some campaign waged by the Mail against the “lefties, liberals and lesbians” of the Beeb and their dastardly license fee. And I don’t blame him a bit.

  2. Come on, we all know that -gate is convenient shorthand. Every paper today has used it and it’s something the public understands. It’s not about legitimacy.

    The issue of Sachs’ consent is not terribly clear. I’ve read at least two reports where he not only asked for the clips ot to be played but offered to appear on the show the following week instead to make up for failing to be available for interview on the show in which the calls were made.

    Fair point about the editing. And I agree the Mail has breached Sachs’ trust.

    As for Baillie, she’s a performer too. Fair play to using an opportunity to plug her burlesque troupe. Most others in her position would have done the same. I do not believe that somehow undermines her distress about her privacy being invaded.

    Are you basing your view on Brand’s resignation on any facts or is it just speculation on your part? I think he was right to go, much as I dislike him he showed he has some balls, which is more than can be said of most politicians in a -gate of some sort. But if he really didn’t like being a pawn for the Mail, his timing was awfully coincidental.

  3. My view on Brand’s departure is based on the fact that his apology demonstrably lacks sincerity, and particularly following his reference earlier in the week to the Mail’s support of Hitler in the months leading up to the War – I forget the exact wording he used but it was something like, “Which is worse? Telling a bad joke or supporting a political regime that murdered millions of innocent people?”

    I just don’t buy that the Satanic Slut is upset by any invasion of her privacy – she strikes me as being delighted by the publicity and the Sun’s pay-off.

    I also don’t buy that the Mail is genuinely offended. If so, why run the salacious pics alongside the story? Why run the unedited transcript? Or is it perhaps that they saw an opportunity to attack the Beeb and went at it with gusto?

    Take a look at the comments on the editors’ blog and you’ll find the comments a lot more balanced.

  4. I absolutely agree that Brand’s apology was insincere, just like the one he made a couple of days ago, when he had the temerity to claim he’d still been funny. His comment about the Mail is beneath contempt, whatever you think of the Mail, particularly given that Sachs’ family was murdered in the Holocaust.

    I saw the footage of Baillie’s interview by the Sun and she looked and sounded pretty upset to me. I saw no delight, only pain in being the unwitting instrument used to beat her grandfather.

    The Mail hates the Beeb and has done for a long time, because it represents everything the Mail hates. Matt Wells put it succintly in the Guardian when he said: “it embodies everything [Associated Newspapers] hate about modern Britain – liberal, public service, populist, coarse and celebrity-obsessed (yes, that’s the same Mail group that splashed pictures of Andrew Sachs’ burlesque-dancer granddaughter in bra and pants all over its website).”

    Which editors’ blog are you referring to?

  5. I thought as much – I read the BBC blog earlier and I’m not in disagreement. I’ve just watched Newsnight, where the generational gap was heavily debated in regards to this. The three comedians round the table were all in agreement that the BBC needs edgy talent but that the editors failed to rein in that edginess when it overstepped acceptable boundaries for a public service broadcaster.

    For the footage of Baillie talking about her distress, see

  6. A fine example of media manufactured hysteria I thought. I caught numerous people at work chatting about their ‘outrage’ to this poor-taste prank around the office water cooler – of course none of them had actually listened to the recording (and why would you need to when there are so many other people around to think for you?)

    I did listen to it myself, and while it wasn’t exactly in good taste, well, this is Russell Brand’s radio show – a presenter not exactly renowned for his conservative tone. Yes – he and Ross pushed things further than they probably should have, but it wasn’t done with even a hint of malice.

    Personally I think it’s a shame that Brand resigned over it and I will actually miss the show. But congratulations to the government/media on successfully diverting attention from the massive economic problems that continue to develop this week to something completely trivial.

  7. I don’t suppose much of what Brand does will ever be considered good taste, but that’s part of his appeal for his fans. The issue really is that it should not have been broadcast. Had the editors been doing their job properly, Brand would not have resigned, nor Ross been suspended without pay.

    The BBC is in a difficult position – as a publicly funded public service broadcaster it has to appeal to the widest audiences while remaining accountable. It would be grim if the output was all Brand style or all Antiques Roadshow. That’s where the editors need to be firmer about the more risqué stuff. Risqué is good and the BBC needs to be dong that as much as other channels. If we lose programmes like Mock the Week because Aunty starts self-censoring it will be really sad. But these shows are largely prerecorded and editors really do need to think hard about what crosses the line.

    I personally won’t miss Brand as I don’t get him but I will miss Ross over the next few months.

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