Monday 20 May 2019

BBC fights to save Ross after Brand 'sacrificed'

Andrew Pierce

The BBC was fighting to save the career of its star presenter Jonathan Ross last night after sacrificing Russell Brand in the controversy over obscene telephone calls to the 'Fawlty Towers' actor Andrew Sachs.

Both were suspended yesterday by the corporation's director-general, but while Ross went no further than issuing a public apology for his behaviour, Brand announced that he was quitting his £200,000-a-year Saturday night Radio 2 show.

Ross, who is on a three-year £18m (e22.7m) contract, pointedly did not offer to step down and the BBC is hoping Brand's abrupt departure will halt the clamour for more resignations.

Brand resigned before he was sacked from the show he has presented since November 2006. In a rambling video broadcast in which he appeared to be standing next to a photograph of Stalin, Brand said he took "complete responsibility".

Departure

He said he hoped his departure would lead to Ross and the BBC enduring "less forensic wrath" over the scandal.

One BBC executive said: "This was about Brand's radio show. It was not Ross's programme."

Ross expressed regret for his "juvenile" and "stupid error of judgment".

The apology, issued through his solicitors, Shillings, said: "I am deeply sorry and greatly regret the upset and distress that my juvenile and thoughtless remarks on the Russell Brand show have caused."

Mark Thompson, the BBC's director-general, had taken the unprecedented decision to suspend both presenters for their "gross lapse of taste" which he said had caused "severe offence".

By last night, a record 27,000 complaints had been made about the series of obscene calls to Mr Sachs (78), in which the two men alleged that Brand had slept with Mr Sach's 23-year-old granddaughter and joked that he might kill himself.

The suspension only came 11 days after the calls were broadcast on Brand's Radio 2 show. Last night, it emerged that they had been approved two days earlier by the BBC production team headed by Dave Barber the head of specialist music and compliance at Radio 2.

Mr Barber will be a central figure in the internal inquiry into the affair set up by Mr Thompson which is expected to be completed by the end of the week.

Lesley Douglas, the controller of Radio 2, will also be in the line of fire. Her office was alerted last week about the lewd calls but failed to take any action.

Mr Thompson yesterday cut short a family holiday in Sicily after the BBC Trust, the governing body, demanded swift action against the presenters.

Yesterday the planned filming of Ross's Friday night talk show was cancelled and the pressure to terminate his contract, which has 18 months to run, continued with Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, calling publicly for both men to be dismissed.

In an article in his local paper in Blackburn, Mr Straw said: "If the presenters concerned had been working for a local radio station does anyone seriously believe that they'd still be in post? Of course not. They'd have been given their P45. And it's difficult not to feel that that's exactly what should happen to these two so-called 'stars'."

Michael Parkinson, the veteran broadcaster, joined the chorus of condemnation. "Whichever way you look at it, it's not funny and it's upsetting to an old man like Andrew Sachs," he said.

"Would Jonathan like somebody on the radio saying, 'I've ****** your granddaughter'?

Mr Sachs said of Russell Brand's decision to quit his BBC radio show: "I respect his decision. I hope he moves forward, I really hope he does."

He said he would not make a formal complaint to the police. "They got it badly wrong and made a poor team", but he was not seeking revenge.

Granddaughter Georgina Baillie added: "I'm thrilled because justice has been done." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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