Cut! The Beeb gags on green willies and Asian weasels

To decide to censor things your station has previously broadcast is cowardice
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
LAST FRIDAY, I was reading the new Spectator, which by an odd chance contained no less than two articles describing how the writer had been tyrannically fired by BBC radio (the admirable Chris Dunkley and the admirable Mark Steyn), when by an even odder chance the phone rang and it was Tony Staveacre on the line. "I've got some bad news," she said. "The BBC doesn't like our programme.

"They're going to cut it".

Double Vision is an hour-long Radio 4 conversation, co-presented by myself and Edward Enfield on Saturdays at 10 am, produced by Tony Staveacre. We get through a whole hour quite amiably with the help of guests and a few extracts from the BBC sound archives. It's often quite invigorating, especially when the guests take over from Edward and me. This week we had decided to tackle the subject of sex.

"I've had a Radio 4 commissioning editor on the phone," Tony said. "They object to three bits in the show. One when the children recite a nursery rhyme about Kermit's green willy. One when you men talk about vaginas. And the bit about the Asian weasel."

Yes, we had used an extract from an old Woman's Hour about juvenile sexual awareness in which several children had recited some mildly smutty ryhmes, all of them familiar to me from my own small child and from kid's verse anthologies. Yes, Michelle Hanson, our Guardian guest, had quoted the advice of her ante-natal clinic to "make friends with her vagina", and we had briefly discussed possible names to use in this strange conversation. But the Asian weasel?

Oh, right. This was when another guest, Dr Phil Hammond, had said that you could easily get shocked if you looked for crossword solutions on the Internet.

His parents had recently been stumped by a clue saying "Asian weasel, five letters", and had roamed the Internet for an answer, thus encountering some rather unsavoury and unabashed websites of Oriental prostitutes.

"That's it?" I said. "They're going to cut out a reference to Asian weasels? And kid's rhymes? And all talk of vaginas?"

"Not all," he said. "It's all right when Michelle Hanson talks about female bodies. But they don't like it when the talk is man-dominated."

"Hold on," I said. "The programme goes out tomorrow morning. She's telling you NOW?" She answered: "Well, they've only just listened to the tape. Don't know why. They've had it for two days." Depressing. But it got worse.

"Me again," said Tony later that evening. "The BBC has been on the line again. They've decided to make more cuts. It sounds as if Jimmy Boyle has been brought in on the scene and has asked for a full further quarter of an hour to be taken out. So they're dropping the Alan Bennett-John Fortune extract which we put in..."

This was a quite famous duologue from one of the Secret Policeman's Ball concerts, so mild that Bob Monkhouse - in an anthology of humour - had broadcast it on BBC radio in the middle of the day, late last year.

"What are they up to?" I asked. "Your guess is as good as mine," said Tony. "They don't give reasons."

Well, my guess is that somebody panicked and they started cutting, and when you start cutting you can't stop. What is so strange about all this is that a lot of what they dropped when they did their editing (and a very bad job they made of it, incidentally, leaving loose ends and unidentified speakers) had previously been put out on BBC radio quite safely. It's also very strange that mild stuff like ours was objected to on Radio 4, where the stand-up comedian is now encouraged to get away with anything, where programmes such as the News Quiz have become quite filthy, and where dear old Humphrey Lyttelton is allowed to make the most vile double entendres on I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue.

What horrifies me most, though, is the sheer abandoning of broadcasting standards by Jimmy Boyle's men and women. To get a show which YOU have commissioned on a Wednesday morning, and then not to listen to it till Friday, the day before transmission, is sheer incompetence. To decide to censor things your station has previously broadcast is cowardice.

But to inflict YOUR own cuts and changes on someone else's programme, without telling the producer, OR the audience, what is going on, breaks all known rules of broadcasting. If you ask a producer to do a show, and then don't like it, you ask him to re-do it. You NEVER, even if you are Controller of Radio 4, presume do it yourself.

Or at least you didn't until the BBC reached its present state.

Next time you hear the BBC denying that it's sliding downhill, remember this story.