There are rules here to stop a prank backfiring


A chill went through my bones when I heard about the sad and terrible death of nurse Jacintha Saldanha. I felt so dreadfully sorry that somebody had been made to feel so low, so distressed that they felt that the only solution might be to end their own life. Online, the lynch mobs gathered and the radio station in Australia where the two DJs worked was the target of thousands of angry e-missives demanding that the prank callers be hanged, drawn and quartered – and those were the liberal ones.

As a "pranker" myself (although I loathe that term) I have to admit that I very much had the feeling of "there but for the grace of God go I". How would I feel if somebody to whom I had done something on one of my television programmes had killed themselves as a direct result of it? It would be the end of everything. That's why we have strict rules that insist that everybody we film has to give (and sign) an informed consent form that allows us to use the material we have shot. This has often prevented us from using footage that was comedy gold. The most normal reason for consent being denied is that the person was wandering around with someone that they shouldn't be with and I'm certainly not in the business of home-wrecking.

The main worry when I'm filming is that something could go terribly wrong. I still remember when we were filming a Trigger Happy Christmas sketch. We had called up several chimney sweeps to come (at the rate of one an hour) to sort out our blocked chimney. The joke was that someone was hiding up the chimney dressed as Father Christmas and, when the sweep had a look up there, Santa would come tumbling down and then sprint out of the house.

The first chimney sweep duly arrived, a really sweet-looking man but rather older than we had expected. I could see the headlines at once: "TV show gives local sweep heart attack in sick Santa stunt". We paid him off and told him that we had sorted out the blockage ourselves. He went away, never knowing what had been about to happen. I suppose I could have triggered a stroke when I stood up in a restaurant and started shouting into my big mobile. Would I have been totally responsible then? Probably, but here the line starts to become a bit more blurred.

I actually feel sorry for the Aussie DJs. To be honest, they were not very funny and sound like a pair of arses. But all they were doing was making a stupid phone call that they didn't think would even work, it was so ludicrous. Jacintha Saldanha was a nurse, not a receptionist: it was five in the morning and she simply answered the call and put through what she believed to be the Queen to another nurse, who was the one to reveal the paltry details of Kate's condition. Both the hospital and the Royal Family say that they did not take punitive steps. Prince Charles even joked about it. So I say, leave these DJs alone. They must already be suffering quite staggering levels of guilt that I don't think will ever leave them, and that is punishment enough.

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