Auntie bans 'humiliating' humour
IF television comedians are the court jesters of today, the BBC Trust has taken a sharp pin to the pig's bladder they rattle on a stick.
• "It feels like we're back in the 1970s in terms of compliance" Frankie Boyle
Under new guidelines, comedians and BBC staff will be prohibited from entertaining audiences with "unduly humiliating or derogatory remarks".
The reforms, published following a review commissioned by the BBC Trust, come after the furore provoked by the Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand scandal, when the pair left tasteless messages on the answering machine of Fawlty Towers actor Andrew Sachs during Brand's Radio 2 show.
While many found the lewd exchange comical, the BBC Trust decided it was a "deplorable intrusion".
Since then a spotlight has been shone on comedians' material at the BBC with the Scots comedian, Frankie Boyle chastised by the BBC Trust for making derogatory comments about the facial features of Rebecca Adlington, the Olympic Gold medal winning swimmer.
The changes are aimed at protecting people from "unduly intimidatory, humiliating, intrusive, aggressive or derogatory remarks for the purposes of entertainment". The guidelines state: "This does not mean preventing comedy or jokes about people in the public eye, but simply that such comments and their tone are proportionate to their target." The dead, and historical figures, remain fair game.
• Filth and the fury – the jokes that went wrong
However, there was concern last night that such a broad definition could smother comedy at the BBC.
Tommy Shepherd, owner of The Stand comic club said: "Does this mean you can't take the p*** out of someone anymore? How are you going to define what is 'humiliating', it may hurt one person and be water off a duck's back to another.
"The job of comedy is to satirise people, to poke fun at the people in power and with guidelines like this you would never have Spitting Image, David Steele would have won a complaint after the first episode. They just seem so broad."
Meanwhile, a broadcasting insider said: "This is typical BBC. They rely on the word 'unduly'. It's typical wooly guidelines which leave a lot of wriggle room. I think this could have a serious and derogatory effect on programme-making."
While the agent for Frankie Boyle said he was unavailable for comment, the comedian has in the past expressed his views on the BBC Trust and the danger it poses to comedy. Boyle said the Adlington comment was one of the mildest things he had said on the show, Mock The Week and that few people cared about the BBC Trust's verdict.
He said: "Can you imagine anyone reading that and actually giving a f***? It's disheartening. Who are these people? What authority do they have to judge comedy?
"It now feels like we're back in the 1970s in terms of compliance. The number one priority in TV comedy today is 'don't frighten the horses', and it's probably number two and three as well.If you look at the scheduling nowadays, it's all just celebrities meeting meerkats."
Yesterday, the chairman of the BBC Trust chairman Sir Michael Lyons said: "We recognise the need for the BBC to be original, surprising and sometimes edgy. At the same time, it must be fair, accurate, impartial and avoid giving broad offence."
Guideline updates also state that audiences should not be misled through programme editing or commentary or through unfair competitions where winners are not genuine.
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