C-word allowed to make debut on BBC television

BBC switchboard operators are braced for a tide of complaints tonight, on a scale not seen since the newscaster Peter Sissons wore a burgundy tie to announce the death of the Queen Mother.

A drama-documentary on witches on BBC2 is to risk the wrath of viewers by featuring the "C-word" – previously considered so unutterable that it has never before been passed by BBC television censors.

The programme, Witchcraze, charts the witch-hunts of the 16th and 17th century, in which 1,500 women were killed. The word is spoken when a witchfinder is interrogating a suspect under torture and suggests that the mark of Satan has been left on an intimate part of her body.

The BBC defended its use on the ground of historical accuracy, claiming it was commonly spoken in the 1500s, and not seen as offensive. A spokeswoman said: "The C-word is medieval vernacular for vagina and is used in contemporary documents by the Calvinist minister in the film.

"It is used in its original sense and not as a term of abuse, and it is broadcast at 9.40pm – well after the watershed. The word was used in the original historical documents about the trial," the BBC said.

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