A lesson for the BBC from the Sex Pistols: never mind the bollocks

A bit of non-sexist, non-racist bad language never hurt anyone

Simon Kelner
Wednesday 11 November 2015 19:34
Comments

In this newspaper, patronised in the main by intelligent, well-read adults, am I allowed to say the word “bollocks”? Or do I have to say, as some organs would have it, “b*******”? (I must admit that when I saw all those asterisks, it took me a little time to work out what the offending word was: good job I am familiar with the lexicon of profanity.)

I don’t believe anyone has yet referred to this as Bollocksgate, but on BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing last weekend, one of the judges, Bruno Tonioli, described a routine by the former boy-band member Jay McGuiness as “the bull’s bollocks”. It wasn’t just the fact that Tonioli’s excitable outburst was a corruption of a well-known saying – clearly dogs don’t cut it any longer on the testicle front. At 6.35pm on a Saturday evening, it was simply too rich a phrase for some of the audience.

The BBC, cowed by the forces of conservatism, reacted expeditiously and switched into panic mode. Tess Daly, the presenter of the show, immediately apologised for any offence Tonioli may have caused, and when the show ended there was a further, sombre apology on behalf of the corporation for this breach in standards. Strictly Come Dancing is the most popular show on the Beeb, regularly attracting audiences of up to 9 million; and guess how many of those viewers complained to Ofcom? Just 19 of them.

Nevertheless, Ofcom was obliged to hand down a ruling and, sensibly, it said: “Our research shows that in general, audiences would tolerate this language before the watershed.” A study undertaken by the regulator had found that “bollocks” is as likely to offend the great British public as “bloody” and “goddamn”, so this is not exactly a ground-breaking judgement. But does this mean that “bollocks” can be used – forgive me – willy-nilly before the kids are put to bed?

Sadly, this has all come too late for Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s former press spokesman and the inspiration for The Thick of It’s Malcolm Tucker. It was, and probably still is, Mr Campbell’s favourite word, and was regularly employed to dismiss any report he deemed unfavourable to the then prime minister. But even in an environment where bad language has lost the power to shock, especially as far as young people are concerned, I don’t imagine that “bollocks” is likely to be in common parlance just yet, even though it is one of the more adaptable words in the English language. Talking bollocks. Giving someone a bollocking. Making a bollocks of something. And our old favourite: the dog’s bollocks.

But just in time, and to reassure a scandalised nation, Tony Close, the head of standards at Ofcom, yesterday wrote to The Times: “I want to make clear that the word “b*******” (sic) is not acceptable before the watershed.” He added that the “live, accidental nature of the incident” and the “swift and sincere” apology were taken as mitigation on this occasion, and “We continue to enforce the watershed to protect audiences.”

Really? We need protecting? We have seen and heard all manner of upsetting things before the watershed, from reports from Syria to Jeremy Clarkson. A bit of non-sexist, non-racist bad language never hurt anyone. Yes, you’re right. It’s a load of old bollocks.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in