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

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksNow available in paperback
The 67P/CG comet as seen from the Philae lander
scienceThe most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Koenig, creator of popular podcast Serial, which is to be broadcast by the BBC
tvReview: The secret to the programme's success is that it allows its audience to play detective
Ruby Wax has previously written about her mental health problems in her book Sane New World
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

Guru Careers: Finance Account Manager

£Neg. (DOE) + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: A Finance Account Manager with...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Sphere Digital Recruitment: Display Account Manager

£25,000 to £35,000: Sphere Digital Recruitment: The Company Our client are th...

Sphere Digital Recruitment: Sales Director

£80 – 120K : Sphere Digital Recruitment: Sales Director – Ad tech - £80 – 120K...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers