BBC forced to investigate fictitious Radio 4 show's scorer Samantha for sexism

Character has been the butt of sexual innuendos for 40 years

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The Independent Online

For listeners to I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, “Samantha” has long been cherished as the BBC Radio 4 show’s libidinous scorer who, among many innuendos, likes “nothing better than to spend the evening licking the nuts off a large Neapolitan”.

But her future as the butt of countless double entendres during the game show’s 40-year history has come under close scrutiny following a complaint that the gags represented humour of a “highly sexist” and “puerile and unfunny” variety.

It has emerged that the fictitious scorer has been the subject of an in-depth investigation by the BBC into whether the customary innuendos delivered by the show’s male panelists had made Samantha a “sexual object” and should be banned as offensive and harmful.

Details of discussions within the Corporation were released by the BBC Trust as part of a report on the latest deliberations of its Editorial Standards Committee, the body which decides whether complaints to the broadcaster have been adequately dealt with.

The unnamed complainant had been offended by two episodes of the game show in July 2013 where innuendos delivered by its deadpan host, the comedian Jack Dee, had included a description of the made-up character as “a lovely lady who’s scored on more desks than she can remember”.

A 14-page report on the issue said the complainant “considered that Samantha was only referred to as a sexual object and believed the male panelists used: ‘schoolboy sexist so-called humour’, that was ‘both puerile and unfunny’.”

The complaint received an initial response from the show’s producer arguing that the definition of innuendo meant the meaning of the words was “completely clean” and it appeared that “the vast majority of listeners welcome her inclusion”.

When the complainant took the complaint further, to the BBC Trust, arguing that the seaside postcard-style Samantha gags showed the Beeb had failed to keep up with changing social attitudes, she received a second response acknowledging that the jokes could indeed be seen as “old-fashioned, anachronistic and sexist”.

The reply from a BBC complaints reviewer said: “The style and tone of the content is, I think, redolent of the type of humour which was more prevalent and more generally accepted in the last century than the current one.”

The response also acknowledged that this view was shared “at least in part” by a “number of senior figures” and moves were being made to update the Samantha character, including the more frequent use of her male equivalent “Sven”.

A further reply from the producer of the show, which is one of Radio 4’s most popular and attracts more female than male listeners, said greater efforts would be made to ensure that it did not suggest the female scorer was being taken advantage of on the basis that “Samantha like Sven has a prodigious sexual appetite”.

The internal BBC debate led to media reports this summer that Dee, who took over as presenter of the show from its original chairman Humphrey Lyttelton in 2009, had threatened to resign over the complaints. The Trust report said the claims had arisen from a “misunderstanding”.

Ultimately it seems that Samantha will remain in post.

The Trust said while the lines could be seen as sexist if taken out of context, they were in fact a “pastiche of sexist culture” and could not be considered “to perpetuate prejudice or disadvantage”. It ordered that the complaint should not proceed.

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