Did you hear the one about the royal wedding? Unfortunately you never will, because of a ban imposed by the Royal Family on any comedy around the ceremony on Friday.
A list of restrictions imposed on broadcasters stipulates that footage, clips or screen grabs of the Westminster Abbey service cannot be used to amuse the masses. The agreement drawn up between Clarence House, which acts as the office for Prince Charles and Prince William, and the BBC, Sky and ITN, forbids footage of the ceremony being used in "any drama, comedy, satirical or similar entertainment programme or content".
The restrictions have forced an Australian television station to withdraw a show that planned to provide an alternative commentary to the wedding. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) had scheduled a programme to be hosted by the comedy group The Chaser on its channel ABC2, but it has been cancelled because of the near certainty that a couple of jokes would amount to a breach of contract.
Kim Dalton, director of ABC TV, said: "We're surprised and disappointed at this very late stage to be informed that any satirical or comedic treatment of the marriage of Australia's future head of state has been banned." The Chaser's Julian Morrow said: "For a monarchy to be issuing decrees about how the media should cover them seems quite out of keeping with modern democratic times... but I suppose that's exactly what the monarchy is."
A spokesman from Clarence House confirmed that the restrictions applied worldwide: "The contract was drawn up between British broadcasters and Clarence House and we would expect all those using the footage to comply with it."
He said the restrictions are in place because the wedding is a religious ceremony. "This is standard practice when services of this nature are being broadcast," he added. "There is nothing to stop satirical and other entertainment programmes using footage from the rest of the day."
The news that laughter is off the order of service was met with a strong reaction from British comedians. "It seems absolutely ridiculous," said Dom Joly. "If I were them, I would take clips from a really bad American movie or bad look-a-likes."
The comedian and writer Nick Revell said: "If they think they can avoid jokes being made by censoring one of the many platforms available to us, they are mistaken." Stewart Lee added: "We have paid for the Royal Family and their wedding, so it is a bit rich to tell us we are not at liberty to interpret the images it produces in whatever way we see fit." Nevertheless, a number of "alternative" wedding shows are scheduled.
The US comedian Kathy Griffin is to host a royal wedding special. She said: "As a longtime royal watcher – and let's be honest, I'm referring to Prince Harry's adorable arse – I'm eminently qualified to cover the wedding of the year, and not just because I once saw Helen Mirren at In-N-Out Burger." Dame Edna Everage is also due to host a commentary on Australia's Channel Nine.