The Mail on Sunday scoop which today prompted the suspension of Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand was a ‘simple story’ which flags up a ‘much bigger problem for the BBC’, according to Mail on Sunday editor Peter Wright.
Ross and Brand made their obscene on-air phonecall to Andrew Sachs the Saturday before last. But it was the Mail on Sunday’s front-page this week detailing Sachs’ disgust which prompted the furore.
Before the MoS story there had been two complaints to the BBC about the incident. As of today there have been 18,000.
Wright told Press Gazette: ‘This is clearly a story that touched a nerve with people and that’s because, not only was what Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross did offensive but the BBC knew it was offensive and decided to broadcast it anyway.
‘Like a lot of the best news stories it’s a simple story but it flags up a much bigger problem – with the way the BBC is run and in the way it responds to public concerns about the things it does.”
The story came about when reporter Miles Goslett was listening to Russell Brand’s Radio Two show the Saturday night before last.
Goslett realised there was likely to be a story in Ross and Brand’s comments and rang Andrew Sachs’ agent on the Monday to find out that the 78-year-old actor was indeed very upset.
The story became front page material when Goslett called the BBC and found out that the programme was pre-recorded and okayed for transmission despite senior staff knowing it contained the obscene material.
During the show, Brand telephoned Sachs at a pre-arranged time for an interview. When Sachs failed to answer, Brand and Ross left a number of prank voicemail messages, in which Ross revealed that Brand has had a sexual encounter with Sachs’ grand-daughter, Georgina Baillie.
At one point Ross shouted: ‘He fucked your granddaughter’and Brand joked that he wore a condom and wanted to marry Baillie.
Baillie, who is a burlesque dancer with a group called the Satanic Sluts and goes by the stage name Voluptua, finally spoke out about the incident exclusively in today’s Sun and called for the pair to be sacked.
BBC director-general Mark Thompson announced today that an investigation into the show was near completion and said until then both Ross and Brand have been suspended from the BBC.
Following the announcement Brand announced his resignation from the BBC.
Thomson said: ‘BBC audiences accept that, in comedy, performers attempt to push the line of taste. However, this is not a marginal case. It is clear from the views expressed by the public that this broadcast has caused severe offence and I share that view.
‘I have decided that it is not appropriate for either Russell Brand or Jonathan Ross to continue broadcasting on the BBC until I have seen the full report of the actions of all concerned.”
Thompson added that it was a ‘gross lapse of taste’by both the performers and the production team that has angered licence payers.
He said: ‘I am determined that we satisfy them that any lessons will be learnt and appropriate action taken. I have been asked to report to the Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee before the end of this week and will discuss with the Trust the findings of the report and the actions I propose.”
Media watchdog Ofcom was unable to tally the number of complaints it has received due to a technical glitch, but confirmed it has also received complaints and is to investigate whether Radio 2 breached broadcasting standards by producing “material that may cause harm and offence”.