HIS dark brand of humour has generated acclaim and outrage in almost equal measure. But now Channel 4 has parted company with controversial Scots comic Frankie Boyle.
The station has confirmed it will not commission a second series of Boyle’s infamous sketch show Tramadol Nights.
The broadcaster also says the Glaswegian’s planned chat show will now not be screened. A pilot episode of Frankie Boyle’s Rehabilitation Programme was filmed late last year but the channel decided not to proceed any further.
The stand-up comedian and scriptwriter, who rose to fame on the BBC panel show Mock the Week, claimed he was “relieved” by the decision to axe his late night show but insisted he had no regrets over its controversial content. The programme provoked more than 500 complaints, and was criticised by MPs and charity groups after the comedian made a controversial remark about Katie Price’s disabled son Harvey.
Boyle sparked outrage and a storm of media criticism when he used Tramadol Nights to ridicule Harvey, Price’s son by the footballer Dwight Yorke, who has septo-optic dysplasis, a rare condition which includes hormonal deficiencies. At the time of the row Channel 4 insisted it would stand by Boyle and claimed his comments had been assessed and approved for transmission.
Last year David Abraham, the station’s chief executive, said: “That particular joke was discussed in compliance all the way up the line. The context of the joke was clearly and manifestly satirical.”
However, his lack of contrition was criticised by Westminster’s Culture, Media and Sport select committee whose report concluded: “When it is found to have gone too far, it is important that Channel 4 makes – and is seen to make – a full apology.”
The charity Mencap joined growing calls for Boyle to be sacked, describing his joke as a “disgusting” attack on a disabled child.
Ofcom, the broadcasting watchdog, ruled that the remark was “highly offensive” and censured the station for broadcasting it.
A Channel 4 spokesman told Scotland on Sunday that Tramadol Nights would be a “one off” and no further episodes would be commissioned.
He also confirmed that a “non-transmittable pilot” of Frankie Boyle’s Rehabilitation Programme had been filmed, but there were no plans to turn to turn it into a series.
However, he stressed the station had not closed the door on the maverick comedian, who tours with a live stand-up show and writes a newspaper column, stating: “If the right project were to arise we would work with Frankie again.”
The unscreened television venture was meant to feature Boyle being “confronted by celebrities and members of the public who attempt to change his uncompromising world view in a series of funny, informed debates”. Speaking last year about the proposed pilot, Channel 4’s head of comedy Shane Allen said: “It’s very much like Parkinson or Wogan, but with paedo jokes.
“It’s him [Boyle] in a studio, riffing off the audience a bit, with some people challenging what he says.” Allen had claimed the now-shelved series would help the comedian “move on to the next part of his career”.
Boyle defended Tramadol Nights and its content, but insisted he was not saddened by the decision to axe it.
He said: “I was really happy with it, but you can see why they didn’t want to recommission something that was getting them front-page hatred and I was a bit relieved.
“A six-week panel show takes six weeks to make. Because I was involved from storyboard to editing, Tramadol took over six months, and loads of that was late nights and six-day weeks.”
The 39-year-old said he had found a home for material he had prepared for the show.
He said: “I put a couple of quite long sketch ideas for the second series into my new book. I wrote them up in a couple of days and went back and tweaked them every time I thought of something funny. It was a lot more fun than filming the f***ing things and getting them past lawyers.”
Last year, the Equality and Human Rights Commission accused him of ‘denigrating’ those with disabilities and warned his act could encourage hate crimes.
Boyle has previously courted controversy by making a comment about the Queen which the BBC Trust deemed to be “grossly offensive”, mocking the appearance of Olympic swimmer Rebecca Adlington and comparing Palestine to a cake “being punched to pieces by a very angry Jew”.
But Tommy Sheppard, founder and co-owner of The Stand comedy club, which operates in Edinburgh and Glasgow, was disappointed Channel 4 appeared to have caved in to pressure.
He said: “It looks as if, for all their supposedly radical, liberal traditions, Channel 4 has knuckled down to the celebrity culture that seems to permeate society at the moment.
“Late night programmes and minority channel programmes used to provide a platform for more controversial stuff and it’s worrying that the wings of that are being clipped.”
The Fringe Society board member said edgy humour had a crucial role to play. “We need humour which explores the dark side of life otherwise we reduce comedy to the contents of a Christmas cracker, a horrendous proposition.