DJ Taylor: Boyle's bunnies land him in hot water

There's no middle ground on the Monarchy or the BBC ... and yet shock fails to turn to outrage, except where Frankie's concerned

Related Topics

Trying to define the great absence that supposedly lies at the heart of modern life, commentators quite often diagnose a lack of "civilised values". A refinement of this technique is to lament a dearth of solidarity or communal interest. What is really missing from the thronged early 21st century landscape is a lack of nuance: a series of situations crying out for balance, inches given and received and moral chiaroscuro but instead attracting only a kind of crazed polarity.

One can see this entrenchment at work in the current debates about the Royal Family's usefulness. Here, for example, is part of a recent letter in The Lady: "What little we know of Kate Middleton's lifestyle has been gathered from bits and pieces in the media, but she has our greatest admiration for taking on a role that has so much responsibility and sacrifices much in the way of individual freedom. It goes without saying – this young couple merit our respect."

I initially assumed that this was a rather subtle spoof of the kind of thing that appears in The Daily Telegraph. But no, The Lady is vigorously pro-Royal and presumably the sentiments expressed are genuine. Indeed, there were several similar letters in the newspapers proclaiming what a stout and grievously misrepresented chap Prince Andrew was.

It ought to be possible to hold simultaneously in your head the idea that the monarchy is an august and beneficial institution worthy of its subjects' respect, while thinking that Prince William's nuptials and his uncle's embarrassments are perfect vehicles for satire.

This unwillingness to find shades of grey extends to practically every area of public discourse. I was particularly struck by some of the online responses to a Guardian piece written by Katharine Birbalsingh, the whistle-blowing state school teacher whose account of her experiences, To Miss With Love, has whipped up such hostility among the egalitarian left. One contributor went so far as to say that anyone who spoke at a Conservative Party conference had simply gone over to the other side, irrespective of what he or she might have had to say.

As with the Royal Family, it ought to be possible to admit that while a high proportion of state education is excellent, a fair amount looks to have had a terrible effect on the children involved in it without being labelled a Gove-ite stooge. But the egalitarian left has never been very keen on individual human experience.


The commentariat seemed rather puzzled by Lord Patten's elevation to the post of chair of the BBC. The adjective "Reithian" was several times used. A certain amount of pious horror was expressed at the revelation that Lord Patten is supposed rarely to watch television – something that you might feel was actually a point in his favour.

One issue that Lord Patten might like to turn his attention to as a matter of urgency is the BBC's plans for local radio. According to recent reports, the corporation is bent on taking an axe to the day-time and evening schedules, preferring to concentrate on shows in the early morning and late afternoon. There are several reasons why this is a very bad idea. One is narrowly practical in that local stations transmit vital information about road closures and weather conditions to the constituencies they serve. Another is their ability to foster the communal solidarity whose absence we all deplore. A third is local radio's status as one of the last bastions of an authentic local culture bravely resisting the surge of mass culture.

Naturally, all this costs money. On the other hand, a fraction of the enormous sums lavished on BBC2's consistently dreary output would bankroll most of the local radio network for the rest of the decade. Looking at Thursday's BBC2 schedules, for example, I discovered a panorama of high-grade entertainment beginning with Helicopter Heroes and Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is and proceeding to Royal Upstairs Downstairs and A Farmer's Life For Me. None of this is a patch on, say, an interview with an Acle churchwarden or an informed discussion on how residents of Costessey pronounce the word "really".


How one feels for the Scottish comedian Frankie Boyle, star of the late-night Channel 4 show Tramadol Nights who had been under investigation by the Advertising Standards Authority for a trailer which featured fuzzy felt images of a badger firing a machine gun and two rabbits duelling with hypodermic syringes. This sympathy derives from the fact that Mr Boyle – still facing an Ofcom inquiry over some bright remarks about Katie Price's disabled son – seems to have lost the ability to shock and has become simply tedious, revealing "a lack of variety", as one newspaper ominously put it.

One sees this fatal transformation, born of an audience that has stopped being outraged and is now merely bored, in every part of British cultural life. I was in the audience at the King's Lynn Literary Festival recently to hear the distinguished novelist Paul Bailey read from his excellent new work, Chapman's Odyssey. Doubtless with the best intentions, Mr Bailey had chosen to read a somewhat challenging description of gay sex, full of straining members and salacious repartee.

Twenty years ago, some of those present would have walked out in protest. Here, in 2011, the response was one of faint exasperation: "Does he have to go on about willies?" someone remarked. Two elderly ladies had fallen asleep. This new-found maturity on the part of audiences has grave implications for every branch of the arts. If the only response that Frankie Boyle gets for his "cutting-edge" provocations is a yawn, then he might have to resort to genuine humour.


As the Libyan uprising grinds to a halt, as Colonel Gaddafi's tanks hurtle eastward towards Benghazi and the governments of the West belatedly sign up to the principle of military intervention, one vital question has yet to receive an airing.

You are the chief executive of a major international oil company with interests in the Libyan fields. You have watched the stirrings of a popular revolt against a ruthlessly autocratic regime. You have heard the condemnation of the international community and monitored the agitation for a no-fly zone. Let us say that in a week's time Gaddafi is in full control of the country and busy slaughtering thousands of the people who opposed him. What do you do? Go on extracting your oil and paying for it, while quietly ignoring the inconveniences of the past few weeks? Or decline to treat with tyrants? Somehow I think I know the answer.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nicola Sturgeon could have considerable influence over David Cameron in a hung parliament  

General Election 2015: What if Cameron were to end up in hock to the SNP?

Steve Richards
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before