31 October 2008

Protecting children from the Sachs offenders

Did you hear about that terrible earthquake in Pakistan on Wednesday? So far 300 dead and 50,000 made homeless, and all in desperate need of food and shelter. You may have missed this, because apparently the most important story of the week was a rude message left on an actor's answerphone. And not just the Daily Mail, the green-eyed monster who never passes up the chance to kick the BBC; even the BBC pulled on its hair shirt to flagellate itself, determined not to be accused of bias.

The caricature is a tempting one: two overpaid, over-confident, overtly sexual comedians preying on the elderly from their towers of money. At the risk of adding a little balance to the debate, the reason Brand and Ross ended up leaving messages on Andrew Sachs's answering machine is because they were trying to conduct a pre-arranged phone conversation with him, but he wasn't there. Does that justify leaving an obscene message and then broadcasting that to the nation? Probably not, but it's also not the case that they sat around thinking of old people to pick on - two broadcasters with a mischievous sense of humour then egged each other on when they probably should have known better. End of story, or at least it should have been.

Too much has already been said about the merits of "edgy" comedy on the BBC, whatever that means. But if what happened this week is the occasional price of trying to be innovative, then I think it is worth paying, with all the caveats and apologies you like. The BBC should be allowed to fail, because without that risk of failure, they will never achieve greatness. The victory of a policy of taste as dictated by the Daily Mail will be the triumph of mediocrity - where all comedy is Terry and June, all entertainment is Dancing on Ice and everything tastes of vanilla.

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