David Mitchell on the post-Sachsgate BBC

Seven months after the Ross/Brand affair, David Mitchell nails the reactions of the tabloids, the BBC, and the government:

The BBC is an institution of genius, one of the great achievements of the 20th century. It’s famed for its news reporting, drama, comedy and documentaries; it provides the best radio stations and website on Earth. But there is a plot to destroy it; a plot to which Ross and Brand’s childish remarks gave an unwitting but enormous boost; a plot led by people who say they support the BBC but not the licence fee, by people who find the word “fuck” more offensive than Holocaust denial. By its competitors.

The whole thing is perfectly put, and seems completely accurate. Bravo.

Tweeting Brand

Just FYI. Don’t tell the Mail.

I enjoyed Jonathan‘s return to the BBC last weekend. There were immediate complaints about a crack on his radio show (that made me laugh), but – for what seems like the first time in ages – the BBC actually stood up for themselves. Hooray!

They seem to be doing that quite a bit this week, in slightly odd ways. I admit to being baffled by their refusal to screen a Gaza aid appeal on the grounds of impartiality. But – as with anything related to Israel / Palestine – I have no idea what I’m talking about, so I won’t.

Improve your sex life with magic tricks

Here is a very useful video on using magic tricks to pick up women. If you can make it through two minutes without wanting to crawl into a bucket and die, you’re better than me:

Worth it for the utterly baffling final three seconds, though.

Take it from an ex-teenage-magician: you will not impress women by performing magic tricks. At all. Ever. Every male magician tries to envisage situations where the opposite is true, but it never happens. The closest I ever heard anyone get was David Copperfield, when he was mugged a couple of years ago. In front of his two female assistants, he showed the mugger his ’empty’ pockets, despite having a wallet and mobile phone in them. Not very heroic, but not bad. Except the mugger then robbed the assistants, which totally ruined it.

Via Graham Linehan‘s twitter account, via Jonathan Ross, who’s been vetting celebrity tweeters for the last couple of days. Graham Linehan = real. Eddie Izzard, Jeremy Clarkson and Jack Dee, not so much. He’s apparently going to try and talk Russell Brand into joining, which would be entertaining. I miss my weekly dose of Brand insanity.

BBC to transfer HQ to Kent

BBC Director General Mark Thompson surprised BBC staff this evening by announcing a surprise move of the corporation’s headquarters: from December, all management will operate out of a new, purpose-built building in Tunbridge Wells. Mr Thompson described the move as ‘exciting and necessary’ and praised the architectural innovation: exterior walls will be completely transparent, with large magnetic letters that can be rearranged into letters of complaint by local residents. Describing the plans, Mr Thompson said:

We’re clearly out of touch with public sentiment, so we’re going to run all our programming decisions past the most important people: the man in the Tunbridge Wells street. We’ll set up drop-in centres to canvas local opinion, and we won’t do anything without the say-so of the Tunbridge Wells public. They do pay the license fee, after all. This will allow us to be ‘brave and creative’ in our future broadcasting.

The move comes after a turbulent week for the corporation, and follows Mr Thompson’s comments on the BBC’s intentions to pay less to its most popular entertainers – statements widely interpreted as being directed at the tabloid press. Mr Thompson confirmed this:

We at the BBC were faced with a stark decision. We could stand by our presenters, explaining that they made a mistake and would be reprimanded in an appropriate, grown-up manner. We would also point to the history and character of the pair, point out that they were showing appropriate remorse, and perhaps mention that the media hysteria is being driven by those who despise the BBC. In short, we could have grown a pair. But that was too hard, so we’ve instead decided to prostrate ourselves in front of the Daily Mail. This is now our primary goal.

Asked how this would affect the BBC’s investigations into the matter, Mr Thompson said:

It’s obvious to everyone that our comedians went too far, although anyone listening to the show could quite easily see that it happened without any malice or intentional cruelty on the part of our presenters. However, we’re sure Tunbridge Wells residents will confirm this pales in comparison to the outrage felt by people who write us letters. We’re still not clear on how this pre-recorded show came to be broadcast – perhaps someone failed to realise the seriousness of the situation, as in hindsight it’s obvious the Prime Minister would need to get involved.

Tunbridge Wells residents are said to be delighted with the news, and have already established an action committee to “go apeshit the moment Jonathan Ross completes his suspension and says ‘cock’ on BBC1”.

In related news, a study by Oxford University sociologists has quantifiably established that Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand are the only participants to end the week with any class or dignity1. Researchers say this is due to the manner of their apologies and their general handling of the incident, which has seen the BBC and much of the UK print media ’embarrass themselves beyond belief’.

  1. although an appendix notes considerable sympathy for Lesley Douglas []

Crap evening for entertainment news

  1. David Tennant resigns from Doctor Who.
  2. Russell Brand resigns from the BBC.

Well, that sucks. I enjoyed both of those people very much. A twitter friend suggested Steven Moffat should invite Russell Brand to be the next Doctor, which would be tremendous.

I guess it’s not too surprising that David Tennant’s leaving, but I was hoping the lure of Steven Moffat scripts would be enough for at least another series. Oh well.

It’s ridiculous that RB was forced to resign. An apology was obviously appropriate, but demands for resignation? Get a grip. It’s all a right-wing BBC-hater’s wet dream, and their cacophony of outrage doesn’t ring true.

And I bloody wish they’d stop calling them ‘prank’ phone calls – that’s a broken definition of ‘prank’. It wasn’t set up, preplanned, or, imho, intended to be malicious. Calling it a ‘prank’ call gives completely the wrong impression. Call it thoughtless, say they should have known better, demand apologies, etc.. But calling it a ‘prank’ is undeniably unfair.

I still think the whole event is entirely explicable as a regrettable mistake without intentional malice, and that anyone listening to the show would see this. But maybe that’s too subtle for the rabid prudes and BBC-haters. Not that everyone who complained can be classified as such, obviously. But many undoubtedly can, and they’re very, very loud.

(edit) His resignation video is impressive and worth watching, imho. It confirms the impression I had of the guy, too.

*grump*. The story has caused some fun around here, mind: my Brand / Ross / Sachs post got linked to from Radio 4’s Today Programme website yesterday, and that plus Google searches nearly killed the webserver.

Brand / Ross / Sachs

Russell Brand has apologised to Andrew Sachs for answerphone messages left during the former’s Radio 2 show. Now, I listened to that particular episode yesterday, and I laughed a lot. And I’m the first person to turn off comedians who crudely insult people for laughs – that’s not my thing at all. So I think this is all a bit odd.

This particular episode had been on my to-listen list for a while, as the guest co-host was Jonathan Ross. I’m a great admirer of both men, and I was looking forward to hearing them spar. And I wasn’t disappointed – I like that kind of fast wordplay and wit. I don’t remember thinking they were doing anything particularly offensive or awful, but here’s how the BBC described their actions:

Both Brand and Ross made obscene comments about Sachs’ 23-year-old granddaughter on a series of messages which they left on the actor’s voicemail during the segment.

That’s one way of phrasing it, but it’s hardly fair. They make it sound like a cruel prank, which it wasn’t – if you listen to the show, it’s clearly neither malicious nor deliberately insulting. Russell had, it turned out, slept with said granddaughter, and he and Jonathan agreed that this was something they definitely shouldn’t mention. Like, you know, the war. But when ex-Fawlty Towers star Andrew Sachs wasn’t in, they got his answerphone. And while trying to think of a message, things degraded into innuendo. I’m sure you can imagine. They later agreed that they felt bad about this message, so phoned back to apologise. This took a few phone calls, and the final one was pretty much ‘sorry. we’re sorry.’

I found it pretty funny. Others likely didn’t, which is fair enough. But to call it anything more than joking around is to assume a certain malice on the part of the presenters, which I don’t see. If you’ve spent any time watching or listening to Jonathan Ross, he’s obviously either kind, liberal and decent, or one a hell of an actor. Russell Brand is less someone I’d like to be friends with1, and he can sometimes be unpleasant during his trademark flights of verbal diarrhea, but when push comes to shove he has – to my view – a similar sense of kindness. 

But still, even if you’ve never heard either of them before, listening to the show in context should clear it up. They simply weren’t being nasty.

It’s unfortunate that Andrew Sachs apparently reacted badly, and I suppose the whole thing hinges on his reaction. Many people would, I suspect, have found the messages amusing. But that’s just unfortunate, and it shouldn’t be difficult to explain and demonstrate that no offence was intended. But a quick google blog search finds lots of reactionary right-wing whiners calling for them to be sacked. Which isn’t surprising, but is a bit pathetic.

These situations always remind me of the spectacular hissy fits after Jonathan Ross asked David Cameron whether he’d ever masturbated over Margaret Thatcher. Lots of prudes old right-wing prudes decided it was 1875 and any talk of sex in public should result in a jolly public hanging, or at least the stocks. It’s vulgar and disprespectful and blah get-off-my-lawn blah. They, as ever, failed to appreciate that rational people can talk in this way without being unpleasant. It’s about intent, not the simple words themselves. If you watch the video, the style of interview and questioning is obviously not cruel or malicious, and the reasons it’s funny are interesting in themselves. I’m not going to start analysing the comedy, but if you can’t figure out what’s going on there, maybe you shouldn’t be commenting on appropriate behaviour. If you don’t find it funny, fine, but to declare outrage and indecency and disrespect is making yourself look like a stuffy, empathy-less Victorian with no sense of nuance. If you can’t handle jokes about masturbation, I really don’t know what to say.

Anyway. If you’d like to hear the show for yourself, it’s still on the podcast feed here (it’s the show from the 18th October).

  1. My Booky Wook isn’t the nicest read ever []

Vulgarity and the House of Commons

There’s a fair amount of chatter regarding Claire Curtis-Thomas’ bid to place “lad’s mags” on the top shelf of newsagents. I’m still figuring out a logical way to approach the subject, but a side note of interest is this quote:

Ms Curtis-Thomas said descriptions of sexual acts in the ‘Dictionary of Porn’ in an April edition of Zoo magazine are “so graphic and repulsive I am prevented from quoting it on the floor of the House of Commons.”

I think this is more rhetorical trick than real statement – it seems unlikely she would have read them out anyway – but is there any truth to it? Are there things she wouldn’t be allowed to say in the House of Commons? If so, that’s stupid.

In related matters, Lord Tebbit thinks that Jonathan Ross asking David Cameron:

Did you or did you not have a wank thinking ‘Margaret Thatcher’?

is

an obscene attack on – and I use the word literally, obscene – on Margaret Thatcher.

I think some people need to lighten up. Also, it would help if they watched the interview and saw the context of the query. Interesting question, though: is it ever offensive to have somebody fantasise about you? Even if you’d rather they didn’t, or even if it’s in a stalker-esque manner, isn’t the act inherently flattering? Maybe if they were misrepresenting you, but then it wouldn’t really be a fantasy about you…Not sure. This links in with lad’s mags, in a way.

Incidentally, JR’s (extremely good, imho) interview with DC is available on the BBC website, but the offending segment has been cut out so you should watch it here and here instead.