Alexander Armstrong: BBC caution grates with its favourite comedian

The 42-year-old is not afraid to rile his Beeb bosses

There is no escaping Alexander Armstrong on the BBC: comedy shows, radio, quizzes, stand-up and sketches. It would be fair to say the broadcaster has put a lot of money Armstrong's way. But that has not stopped the comedian having a pop at poor old Auntie.

The host of the BBC1 daily game show Pointless has hit out at the institution for selling off its studios, being governed by politics and seeming cowed by public outrage. He said of his employer: "The BBC is a brilliant, infuriating, delightful cornerstone of our culture but it drives me round the twist. I will never forgive them for selling off BBC Centre. It's probably the best studio facility in Europe, possibly the world, and it's being sold off for flats and a luxury hotel."

The 42-year-old comedian, who got his career break on Channel 4 with Armstrong and Miller before moving the act to the BBC as The Armstrong and Miller Show, added that the culture of the broadcaster had been stifled by politics. "Something about the corporate structure of the BBC has changed so much. The problem is you have people who are keenly aware of what their time span is. Governments work towards the next election; BBC governors work for their time there. You have extraordinary regimes that run at the BBC and different people have different outlooks.

"There was a period in the Nineties when the BBC wanted to act as if it was a trendy Soho independent. They broke up all sorts of things and got people to work as freelancers who had previously been BBC employees. It corroded a sort of esprit de corps, I think."

He said he believed that the broadcaster did not "fully bounce back" after the fallout from Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross's prank call to Andrew Sachs in 2008, and that this had combined with the Savile scandal to engender a new cautiousness. "We're in this curious era in terms of sensitivity and offence," he said. "This is happening across the board and there are all sorts of new sacred cows."

In a partial defence of the BBC Radio 2 debacle that came to be known as Sachsgate, where Mr Brand was broadcast leaving a voicemail for Mr Sachs saying he had had sex with the actor's granddaughter, he said: "Appalling, over-the-line-stepping as it was, I could write a thesis on why they were doing something extremely funny. Terribly poor taste, yes, but that's the context. People say outrageous jokes not because they believe them but because there's something inherently funny about someone daring to say something that's unsayable. You have to be clear that comedy doesn't stray into bullying and that's why it's right it was punished. But I'd maintain there are clear reasons why it was funny."

The comedian, who is a regular on BBC shows such as Have I Got News For You, said that manufactured outrage was ruining comedy. "I'd love a rule to be introduced that you can only ring up and complain about a programme if you can prove you've watched the whole programme. There's a pattern now where there's a small number of complaints about a programme – usually a comic programme, often with Jonathan Ross or Jack Whitehall or James Cordon – and maybe two people might ring in saying, 'Ooh, I thought that was a bit near the knuckle', which is perfectly normal and, in fact, desirable for a comedy programme. Then there's an article about it and 47,000 Daily Mail readers call in and say 'I think it was disgraceful'. And then you think, hang on a moment, we are licensed fools and, in the context of comedy, these things are funny."

Armstrong was speaking to The Independent on Sunday before a new series of The Big Ask starts on 26 February on Dave. Asked if television had reached saturation point with panel shows, he gave a sheepish grin: "I've just piloted a new panel show on ITV. So, no, we haven't," he said, nodding his head and mouthing "Yes, we have!".

In defence of The Big Ask and the new pilot, he noted: "They're not panel shows really, they're chair shows. No one sits on a panel, there's no buzzing of buzzers."

He says his new ITV show, still at the pilot stage, is based on his "all-time favourite game". "It's the synopsis game, where you read out the back cover of the book and everyone has to write the first line. It's based on that, but you have to spot the real first lines." The comedians in the pilot were Stephen Mangan, Mel Giedroyc and Russell Kane.

Now the father-of-three is planning a return to dramatic comedy in a show that would reunite him with Ben Miller. "There's a lovely comedy drama that Ben and I are developing for BBC One. They get the script next month and I'd be thrilled if they gave it the thumbs up."

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Anthony Hopkins in Westworld

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rock and role: Jamie Bell's character Benjamin Grimm is transformed into 'Thing' in the film adaptation of Marvel Comics' 'Fantastic Four'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Hopkins veered between sycophancy and insult in her new chat show
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
In his role as Hamlet, Benedict Cumberbatch will have to learn, and repeat night after night, around 1,480 lines

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Belgian sexologist Goedele Liekens with pupils at Hollins Technology College in Accrington
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Judges Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The rapper Drake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The gaffer: Prince Philip and the future Queen in 1947
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Style icons: The Beatles on set in Austria
film
Arts and Entertainment
By Seuss! ‘What Pet Shall I Get?’ hits the bookshops this week
Books
Arts and Entertainment
The mushroom cloud over Hiroshima after Enola Gray and her crew dropped the bomb
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Elliott outside his stationery store that houses a Post Office
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Rebecca Ferguson, Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible Rogue Nation

Film review Tom Cruise, 50, is still like a puppy in this relentless action soap opera

Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams in True Detective season 2

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Off the wall: the cast of ‘Life in Squares’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Books And it is whizzpopping!

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future