Heaven forbid! BBC drops 'sick and repellent' comic

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The Independent Online

* A rather unholy row at the Edinburgh Fringe: the Australian comic Jim Jeffries has been dropped from debating in the BBC1 religious affairs show Heaven and Earth this Sunday, following a run-in with the evangelical activists Christian Voice.

They have their robes in a twist over Jeffries' production, The Second Coming, which claims to be "his most morally bankrupt show to date" - not bad considering that his last one, Porn Idol, delivered "lashings of the most explicit and offensive punchlines of the festival".

Jeffries, above right, was billed to join a panel discussion on blasphemy with Stephen Green, director of Christian Voice, but Green refused to engage with such a "sick, repellent man".

"Heaven and Earth called to confirm at 11am," Jeffries tells me. "At 11.40am they rang back to cancel. It's stupid because I was looking forward to dropping the knob gags and having a serious debate about blasphemy. He could easily have beaten a hungover bloke on a Sunday morning."

Green admits he "spoke to the producers", adding: "Freedom of speech doesn't go so far as being blasphemous. This is a matter of God being gratuitously insulted. God is Almighty and beyond insult."

A member of the H&E production team said the change was "no big deal".

Jeffries denies charges of blasphemy: "Jesus didn't know he was the chosen one until he was 30. I have got a couple of months left - and as much chance as anybody."

* You might imagine that any horseplay among the female cast members of Guys and Dolls would be directed towards Patrick Swayze, given his Dirty Dancing cult status.

Not so, according to his co-star in the musical, Claire Sweeney. Instead the girls targeted another, albeit slightly less sprightly, screen legend at Monday night's performance.

"Did you see when we flashed a bit of boob tonight?" Sweeney asks me at the after-show party at the Floridita. Yes!

"Well we saw Bruce Forsyth in the stalls and did it for him. I've just told him and he loved it."

Forsyth was indeed sporting a Cheshire smile - although he insisted it was down to the quality of the dancing.

"It wasn't as bad as my second night," adds Sweeney. "After the strip scene where I get topless I slipped. I ended up on my back with my hands in the air. You can imagine ..."

* M Night Shyamalan, director of The Sixth Sense, has made his name (and fortune) in Hollywood through a canny ability to plant bums on seats.

But at Tuesday night's premiere of his latest movie, Lady in the Water, he faced the awkward prospect of arriving at a half-empty cinema.

As Shyamalan made his way down the red carpet, organisers frantically scanned the sparsely populated auditorium. Believing that a large number of guests had failed to honour their invites, they drafted in surprised punters from the street outside to make up the numbers.

"It was great until the guests who had been invited finally turned up," says one. "There had been a delay on the Tube, so we then got kicked out. It was a bit embarrassing really."

* Yesterday, Pandora reported that Britain's ambassador to Thailand, David William Fall, was holding a seminar: The Influence of Monty Python on British Foreign Policy.

This seemed a strange choice for a talk, given suggestions that Johnny Foreigner no longer takes our position as a "world leader" entirely seriously.

Thankfully, I'm delighted to report the evening was a resounding success.

"It was hysterical," reports one attendee. "At one point the ambassador donned a 'gumby-style' knotted handkerchief and danced around doing John Cleese impersonations. He had the audience in stitches.

"When he moves on, I think he really should consider a career in after-dinner speaking." What a guy!

* Critics have insinuated that the Deputy Prime Minister is not trusted with serious matters while Tony Blair holidays in Barbados.

In fact, I'm told, he has several scintillating items of government business on the agenda - including two announcements, on the future of sea bass and working conditions of mortuary staff.

Sadly, for those who were hoping to see the Sheriff in action, his spokeswoman denies this.

"There aren't any plans for any public engagements," she says. "He is holding meetings. He is being updated regularly on the business of Government and is being updated on other ministers."

Presumably so he can watch them jostling to succeed him?