Verdict of the Week

Russell Brand and Honathan Ross Prank Phone Call

When eCourt first heard the news that Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross had left messages on the answering machine of, Andrew Sachs, boasting about Brand's sexual conquests with the respected Fawlty Towers actor's granddaughter, most of us were quite rightly outraged.

Everyone's first instinct was to side with the rest of the nation in thinking that such an onslaught directed at one of the nations most loved icons and his granddaughter was a step too far. But in the interests of fair play and balance, we thought we ought to actually listen to the broadcast before signing off a verdict to that effect.

The easy answer is to agree with the 35,000 people who complained about it and say the prank obviously went too far. With the benefit of hindsight, in that its target was a respected grandfather and his granddaughter, the BBC should have edited the piece down much further, or not released it at all.

But if the prank is viewed in the context of the original comedic conceit that it was constructed within – one of embarrassing yourself whilst trying to make an apology, and thus making the apology worse – then it worked very well and was actually quite funny in a horribly embarrassing way.

We cringed as we listened to Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross submerge themselves further and further into trouble every time they rang up to apologise about the last message, they made it even worse. And that was the whole point of the joke, the more they tried to ring up and apologise, the deeper hole they dug and the worse the situation got.

Ironically, such scenes of embarrassment were actually the basis of many of the scenes that made Fawlty Towers so excruciatingly funny as well, and ironically this stunt probably owes a debt to that very show. The targets in Fawlty Towers however, although very like real characters, were fictional and these ones were not, and I think that is where Brand, Ross and the BBC made their mistake.

In the heat of the moment, as you listened to the prank calls, it was easy to get drawn into the comedy of the moment and forget that this was actually a real person and not a Fawtly Towers sketch. And unfortunately for all concerned, when you review it the next day and pull out extracts and focus on them, it doesn't look so funny. The conceit it was constructed within has gone and you are left with just the rude and insulting comments which do not work well when taken out of their context and examined in the cold. In fact they look decidedly bad.

But let's look at it in context. It was a comedy show and was going out on the radio to a certain type of audience, which was mainly youth orientated. When it was broadcast only a handful of listeners complained. This is quite normal for any radio show, and certainly quite average for a cutting edge comedy show such as this, and all seemed fine. Just another day at the BBC and so it would have remained it the Mail on Sunday hadn't picked up on it and splashed it onto their front pages.

It was only then that it started to make big news and only then that all the complaints started to flood in. So, by definition, these people who were complaining about the show could not possibly have even heard the show, as this was several days later. They were just complaining from what they had read in the papers and seen in the news. The papers, we all know, angle their stories for maximum impact to shock and make headlines, so that they sell more papers. This they did and it worked very well for the papers.

But what about the poor old grandfather, respected actor and the lovely young granddaughter whose reputation they seemed to besmirch. Again, let's not get too carried away with this. She is no shrinking violet, she could only politely be described in a public forum as an exotic burlesque dancer who describes herself as a swinger who enjoys group sex. She also boasts of being a member of a group called the Satanic Sluts. So, as for ruining her reputation, that particular ship may have already sailed.

As if that wasn't enough, she actually admits to sleeping with Russell Brand on a several occasions and, by her own account, she did so quite willingly. She knew full well of his reputation and yet still had sex with him. Surely anyone who willingly wets the blade of a serial swordsman like Brand can't be too worried about their reputation.

So what is the eCourt Verdict on this unholy mess: Did Brand and Ross go too far? Yes, undoubtedly. Was it funny? Unfortunately, yes. Was it offensive? To those it was aimed at, apparently not, to those who read about it a week later, yes.

In retrospect, then, the BBC was foolish to air the programme as it stood. It should have been edited down a bit more than it was. But if it had been edited down, it probably wouldn't have worked so well. Also, who are we to censor what comedians can say or do? What happens to free speech then? And who decides what you should or shouldn't listen to?

Anyone who has ever watched “Have I Got News For You”, might have heard Paul Merton accusing Prince Philip of murdering Princess Diana, on several occasions, and yet no fuss was ever made about this. But if this incident had been reported in print a week later, then there's no doubt that many people who wouldn't have seen the programme would have been shocked to read it and complained. It is the same with the phone incident here, it was obviously a joke to all those who were tuned in at the time, and hence why there was no uproar about it.

Obviously, the granddaughter was foolish to jump into bed with Brand knowing his reputation, but sleeping with someone doesn't mean you deserve to be ridiculed on a radio sketch show. However the woman in question is obviously no shrinking violet and when she signed up to The Sun newspaper to reveal all in an exclusive interview in exchange for large sums of money, then many people will lose whatever sympathy they may have earlier had with her.

Andrew Sachs obviously doesn't deserves to be drawn into this mess and it went to far, but he was the star of a show that made much of such embarrassing moments and perhaps could have taken it more in the spirit in which it was intended. Perhaps he could have done more to subdue the public outcry if he really wanted to. But he has chosen not to and to just sit back and let it all play out. A pro-active press call with him laughing it off as the joke it was meant to be, would have quelled all this fuss and put the matter to rest much more quickly for him and all the other protagonists.

But there is a darker side to this story, as well. The delicate subject of pay and jealousy may also play a vital part in this farcical situation. Many of us feel that these two are paid far too much, and some people suggest that this may be the unconscious reason why so many people resent them and were so upset with the broadcast.

Lets' not forget all that fuss last year about the huge backlash against Jonathan Ross when he was awarded that £18 million three year pay deal from the BBC's public coffers. Many people resented that and in these credit crunch times, many people may feel that he is overpaid and maybe they felt that this was a good opportunity to vent their resentment towards him with these complaints.

There is also the role of the great British press and the part they played in the downfall of Ross and Brand. It would be wise not to dismiss the human nature of the writers writing the stories about this scandal. This was a chance for them to gain revenge over Ross when he insulted them dismissively by saying that he thought he was worth a thousand reporters. These same reporters were very swift to play a vital part in his current predicament. As sweet a revenge as any Shakespearean tragedy.

In reality, Ross and Brand were only doing exactly what we pay them to do – outrageous comedy sketches. We put them where they are today because they push the boundaries and entertain us. The more they push the boundaries, the more famous they get, the more we pay them and the more acclaim they get. Then suddenly when we think they have gone too far, we act all shocked and surprised and demand that they are punished. Are we hypocrites? Yes.

The eCourt Verdict then on this whole sorry situation is that the pranks was juvenile, it was tactless, and it was irresponsible, but it was only a quick-fire, impromptu comedy sketch that went too far. It has been blown way out of proportion. Let's apologise, shake hands, learn our respective lessons and move on. Let's also find it in our hearts to admit our own role, no matter how tenuous in this whole affair, and realise what a big bunch of hypocrites most of us are when it comes to such matters.


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