The Moral Minority and the BBC: a reality showdown close to Jerry Springer's heart

The corporation's refusal to bow to pressure to pull its screening of a West End hit has unleashed impassioned protests and shown that extremism cuts across religious boundaries

The BBC placed a guard on the homes of some senior staff and took legal action to shut down a Christian website that published the addresses and phone numbers of its executives, as the row escalated over last night's broadcast of Jerry Springer - The Opera.

The BBC action followed threats of "physical violence" and even "bloodshed" against staff, including Roly Keating, the head of BBC2, and their families. Personal details had been made available both on the website and in an email distributed by Christian Voice, one of the groups that has led the extraordinary backlash against the corporation for refusing to pull the broadcast. The protesters claimed its content was blasphemous.

The email from Christian Voice's national director, Stephen Green, to subscribers - obtained by The Independent on Sunday - stated: "We make no apologies for giving their home addresses and in as many cases as we can, their phone numbers ... We know normal protests are channelled in such a way as to be ignored."

The strength of the protests had taken the BBC by surprise. Last night, many in the arts and broadcasting feared a rise in aggressive campaigning to curb artistic freedom in Britain.

They point to the controversy over the play Behzti (Dishonour) in Birmingham, which closed after Sikh protests led to violence, and the BBC's decision to pull the comedy series Popetown last year, as evidence of organised lobbying across religions. A government Bill outlawing incitement to religious hatred is also thought to be adding fuel to the campaigns.

The writer Philip Pullman told the IoS: "I do worry that we are entering a time of greater excitability, greater intolerance. We are now expecting people to feel aggrieved and inciting them to do so, and providing them with an excuse by getting plays put off." A screen adaptation of Pullman's trilogy His Dark Materials is among the casualties, with references to God and religion removed.

Last night's broadcast of Jerry Springer - The Opera went ahead despite more than 30,000 complaints, a record number - many as the result of coordinated campaigns. A 250-strong demonstration and prayer vigil took place outside the corporation's TV centre in west London before the programme. On Friday protesters had tried to storm the BBC building.

Christian Voice claims the production ridicules Christianity. "They [the BBC] hold ordinary people and almighty God in utter contempt," said Mr Green, 53, the founder and national director of the group, set up more than a decade ago.

There is no suggestion that Christian Voice's members made calls to the BBC executives, but corporation insiders believe the group must have been aware of the consequences of publishing them.

A BBC spokesman said: "We can confirm that lawyers acting for the BBC requested that the site was removed to prevent the publication of the private addresses and phone numbers of our staff."

Mr Green said he "absolutely" condemned any threats. But he added that protests would continue, possibly outside the homes of BBC staff, and he is threatening legal action for blasphemy.

In Jerry Springer, a parody of the trash-talk-show host's TV series, Jesus is portrayed wearing a nappy and admits to being "a bit gay". The show aroused few murmurs of protest when it opened at the National Theatre in 2003.

The NT's director, Nicholas Hytner, said: "I am assuming that the people who thought they'd be offended didn't buy tickets. I got a surprisingly small postbag. Try as I might I can't see what the fuss is about."

Many complaints to the BBC have been as a result of reports that the opera includes 8,000 swear words, although the true figure is around 290. The higher estimate was a result of multiplying the expletives by the number of people singing them in the chorus.

The religious backlash is worrying many. The comedian Linda Smith, the president of the British Humanist Association, said: "These people seem to have their tails up at the moment. It's partly after seeing the success Sikhs have had in Birmingham and looking to America and the stranglehold that the religious right have on policy there." Joan Bakewell, who chairs the National Campaign for the Arts, said: "We are on the edge of people feeling that if they are offended by something, it should be outlawed. This is damaging because all sorts of things could be offensive."

But a spokeswoman for the Evangelical Alliance said it should have been pulled, arguing that the programme breached BBC guidelines.

The Conservative deputy leader Michael Ancram also criticised the broadcast. Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Any Questions, he said: "You can choose to go to the theatre ... Public service television, I believe, has another duty and that is to exercise a degree of caution which is not there for the theatre to exercise."

Additional reporting by Andrew Johnson and Steve Bloomfield

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style

Company reveals $542m investment in start-up building 'a rocket ship for the mind"

Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty

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

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Head of Ad Sales - UK Broadcast

competitive + bonus + benefits: Sauce Recruitment: An award-winning global mul...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel your sales role is l...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £45000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Key featuresA highly motivated ...

Vendor Services Manager (IT) - Central London

£50000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Vendor Services Manager (...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album