Monday 23 April 2018

'Father Ted' writer furious at BBC 'ambush'

Murray Wardrop

ONE of the writers behind 'Father Ted' has accused a flagship BBC radio programme of "poisoning" national debate by contriving "artificial" arguments between guests.

Graham Linehan claims he was "ambushed" during an appearance on the 'Today' programme on BBC Radio 4 after producers tried to lure him into a dispute with a theatre critic.

Linehan (43) also called host Justin Webb a "pompous John Humphrys stand-in" after a prickly interview about his theatre remake of the 1955 film 'The Ladykillers'.

The Dublin-born writer's frustration was clear during the live exchange on Monday's show after he refused on air to be goaded into an "adversarial fight" with Michael Billington, the 'Guardian' theatre critic, about the point of the project.

However, Linehan yesterday launched a withering attack on 'Today' on his blog, accusing its makers of orchestrating "harmful squabbling".

"What I thought was going to be a discussion about the technical challenges afforded by turning a classic film into a worthwhile play was actually going to be a typical 'Today' programme bunfight," wrote Linehan.

"What a treat it was to be able to complain directly to 'Today's' pompous John Humphrys stand-in about the squabbling that passes for debate on that programme. The style of debate practised by the 'Today' programme poisons discourse in this country.

"An arena where there are no positions possible except diametrically opposed ones, where no nuance is permitted, where politicians are forced into defensive positions of utter banality . . . none of it is any good for the national conversation. And they wanted to impose this nonsense on me? Michael in the red corner, me in the blue corner! Ding! Defend yourself! Justify yourself!


"What the host didn't realise is that because I'm not a politician . . . I didn't have to be held hostage to their artificial reductive, harmful format."

Linehan, whose body of work also includes 'Black Books' and 'The IT Crowd', said producers told him he would be asked about "problems in adapting a classic film for the stage". But an argument broke out between Webb and Linehan after Billington questioned the point in turning movies into plays.

Webb quipped that Linehan was "as bad as a cabinet minister" by not talking about the play.

Addressing 'Today's' producers in his blog, Linehan wrote yesterday: "Is mis-briefing your guests ethical journalistic practice?

"In giving an accurate brief to one side of the discussion, am I to conclude that someone in the show had already made up their mind on the subject, and wanted to skew the debate to their liking?

"Are little bits of dishonesty like this the only way you guys feel you can maintain your little fight club?"

A BBC spokesman said last night: "There was certainly no intention to 'ambush' Mr Linehan and we are sorry if he took it that way, but our producers felt they had clearly explained in advance how the discussion would play out."

The play opens at Liverpool Playhouse on November 3 before moving to the Gielgud Theatre in London's West End.

Irish Independent

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