Ross pulls out of comedy awards show

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The Independent Online

Jonathan Ross has stepped down from presenting the 2008 British Comedy Awards, ITV announced today.

The broadcaster said it had agreed with the decision following the Andrew Sachs furore.

Ross was last night suspended for three months without pay by the BBC.

Ross was reported to be pocketing at least £100,000 for presenting the annual awards ceremony.

The star also loses around £1.5 million in pay from the BBC, because of his 12-week suspension without pay.

A spokesman for Ross said of the British Comedy Awards: "It's a show he very much enjoys being part of but would not want his participation in this year's event to take away from the awards themselves or the many talented winners of the awards."

ITV Director of Television Peter Fincham said: "We respect Jonathan's decision to stand down from the 2008 British Comedy Awards which has been made with the full support of ITV and the show's producers."

Last night, Radio 2 controller Lesley Douglas resigned, saying: "I believe it is right that I take responsibility for what has happened."

Russell Brand, who took part in the prank with Ross, has quit his Radio 2 show.

The British Comedy Awards regularly pulls in audiences of around 10 million, and according to its website it "features the most swearing, debauchery and drunkenness of any award show since The Pride of Britain Awards".

The event is in its 18th year and this would have been Ross's 17th year as host.

Previous ceremonies have seen appearances by Madonna, Steve Martin and Samuel L Jackson, Tony Blair and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

The website boasts that the most swear words ever recorded at the awards was 487 during the 1995 show.

The TV presenter provoked fury among the BBC's senior management by joking when presenting last year's British Comedy Awards that his £6 million annual salary was "worth 1,000 BBC journalists".

Ross and Brand sparked anger when they left messages on the Fawlty Towers actor's answer phone in which they said Brand had slept with his granddaughter, Georgina Baillie.

The prank was broadcast on Brand's Saturday night Radio 2 show.

The BBC will be hoping Ross's three-month ban and the resignation of the Radio 2 boss will draw a line under the crisis.

Meanwhile, at Ross's home this morning, preparations were taking place in the front garden for the star's annual Halloween bash.

Asked whether Ross would be at the party, his wife, author Jane Goldman, said: "It's my children's Halloween party."

Comedian Jimmy Carr was also seen entering the Hampstead home.

He expressed his support for the BBC star, saying the issue had been been blown out of proportion and Ross was a "national treasure".

Police were also spotted going into the house, where they stayed for around 20 minutes.

Ross throws a fancy-dress bash for friends every year at his north London home and last year dressed up as a Clockwork Orange character.

Terry Wogan, who presents Radio 2's weekday breakfast show, described the resignation of the station's controller, Lesley Douglas, as a "sacrifice".

He told BBC News: "I just hope that at least her sacrifice will bring everything back down to earth a little bit and will give a sense of proportion."

Wogan also said he hoped the furore would not "detract from Children in Need".

The BBC charity appeal show will be screened on 14 November.

In response to a question about how Ross will fare in his career at the end of his suspension, fellow Radio 2 presenter Jeremy Vine told the BBC: "It will be interesting to see how he manages given the damage to this radio station.

"I'm going to be interested to see that - I'm not quite sure how it's going to work."

The former head of BBC Radio, Dame Liz Forgan, said that the BBC had "lost its wits" in accepting Ms Douglas's resignation.

She told BBC Radio 4's World At One: "This was an ugly, revolting and infantile incident. It should never have been broadcast and certainly it requires suspensions and financial penalties. But it was a mistake, not a crime.

"Lesley Douglas is one of the outstanding broadcasters of her generation. She's probably brought more fun and happiness and pleasure to millions of licence payers than many people at the BBC, and I don't see how licence payers can possibly be served by her resignation.

"I think the BBC has lost its wits."

Film producer and Channel 4 deputy chairman Lord Puttnam hailed Ms Douglas as "one of the finest people I have worked with in the broadcast world", adding: "There is not one licence fee payer in Britain who is not poorer today for the fact that Lesley felt it necessary to resign."

Lord Puttnam told World At One that the problem stemmed from the BBC's "inappropriate" decision to pay such high sums for Ross's services.

"Mark Thompson has got to address this and the trust has got to address this," he said.

"Which BBC are we talking about? Is it the one that has reached the point it has today because so many people have lavished huge swathes of their lives to make it that way, or is it a BBC that is going to jump on every passing bandwagon in order to appear to be relevant?"

The Prime Minister today repeated his criticism of the celebrities' behaviour but did not offer a view on whether the BBC had gone far enough in disciplining Ross.

"I think that is a matter for the BBC," said Mr Brown, campaigning today in Glenrothes.

"I said that the behaviour was inappropriate and unacceptable and so did others.

"I think I reflected the public mood about what had happened.

"But matters of discipline are not for the Government - it's for the BBC themselves, and it's for the public to judge."

But Mr Brown continued: "What I also know, however, is that at the time we had problems being caused by some of our most famous people, and the question of taste over what they did, we also had some of our new celebrities on the X Factor doing a charity record to help our heroes coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan and showing that Britain can be very proud of some of the celebrities who do so much for charity."