I’m sure most of us are already familiar with the recent BBC “Manuel offence” incident during which the (and I use the term loosely) comedian Russell Brand and TV/radio presenter Jonathan Ross made a number of quite obscene telephone calls (on air) to the voicemail of actor Andrew Sachs (78). I don’t want to go into the full details here — largely because they are widely available already — but the gist of the story hinged on the two telling Mr Sachs that Brand had had sexual relations with his, Mr Sachs’s, granddaughter, Georgina Baillie.
I’m always cautious when it comes to condemning people who cause offence. I have many grave concerns about the road down which we are travelling with regard this — a road that sees the right to say something controversial being quite possibly slowly eroded. I wrote about it in more detail in this piece, where I said
“Personally, I’ve never really been someone to deliberately go out of my way to offend. Except in exceptional circumstances. But increasingly I find myself appalled by the cultural mass-mindset I see around me. Everyone is perpetually afraid, it seems, to offend. Words that were once acceptable now no longer are, everyone is a minority in need of protecting, of cosseting, of being kept happy and free from unnecessary stress. You can’t say that, but you can say this — unless such and such a person is present, then it might be construed to mean something quite different, in which case, say this instead, making sure that you smile at the same time so that it can’t be misinterpreted as unnecessarily sarcastic or ironic. Whether you’re gay, black, Asian, disabled — or just a plain old vanilla Caucasian with everything in working order — you can guarantee that at some time someone will perform a nifty little verbal Riverdance routine in order to avoid causing offence. And, without wishing to offend (!), it is a complete load of fucking bollocks.”
I then went on to say, however, that with this assertion and freedom naturally comes responsibility — and I truly believe that whilst the boundaries should be pushed there are very clear lines that it’s quite foolish to cross.
So did Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross overstep the mark? Did they show a lack of responsibility? In the name of comedy, on a radio show, is it acceptable to telephone a man in his 70s and effectively taunt him regarding the sexual pursuits (or not) of his granddaughter?
Questions that we don’t really need to ask. Involving Mr Sachs in this conversation in this way was wholly unwarranted, juvenile, unfunny — and quite possibly illegal. The BBC’s broadcasting code makes it quite clear that broadcasters “must ensure that material which may cause offence is justified by the context”. In this case it seems to me that all concerned failed to do this; the context didn’t justify it. It was cruel.
To qualify this ever so slightly, however, I will say that I find the prospect of the public/professional life of Georgina Baillie being used as comedy material perfectly acceptable (as long as it is within the law, naturally.) And it is public knowledge that she is a swinger. Had similar comments been made without Mr Sachs’s involvement, I might not have found it quite so unacceptable — though this in no way justifies the above behaviour of Ross and Brand and I very much doubt it would have been something that I would have found especially amusing.
A model/actress, Georgina‘s stage name is “Voluptua” and she performs with a theatrical group called Satanic Sluts. A “cheerleader massacre, voodoo sacrifice, vampire brutality and much much more”.
[WARNING: sexually suggestive content.]
And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Good luck to her. But just be careful what you say, Georgina. Claiming that your European tour was cut short because of the “public humiliation” arising from this incident might not ring true to some people — not when you say on your MySpace page “I like to party, I don’t care if you call me a ‘waster’ or even a ‘groupie’ because I am having more fun than you and living this way makes me happy.”