Editor-At-Large: BBC was right to get the stupid celeb out of there

Janet Street-Porter
Sunday 08 February 2009 01:00

Carol Thatcher, martyr in the cause of free speech or dumb blonde? Again the BBC runs a news story about itself – the sacking of Carol from The One Show – because she described a black tennis player as a "golliwog". It's not great when a news organisation that's supposed to represent a gold standard of reporting decides that the sacking of a part-time reporter is more worthy of inclusion on the main news than school closures, the demise of the high street, or interest rates. Given this self-obsession, can we expect a news flash if Jonathan Ross's wife Jane stops dyeing her hair that unfortunate shade of shocking pink? Who decides these things?

I have experience of these changing priorities because, a while ago, I was at home when I heard my name on the 9am news on Radio 4, which told listeners I had been arrested because of an allegation that I had made a racist remark to a neighbour. I was increasingly incredulous as this information was repeated throughout the day on the BBC. At the time I wasn't even working for it. By the way, no charges were ever brought and the whole matter was dropped, but the BBC didn't bother to broadcast that fact to the nation. It's a rum business, this people-focused news agenda in the age of celebrity.

Now, the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has waded in, saying he thinks Carol shouldn't have been sacked, although he found her comment "a bit offensive". I disagree. Carol Thatcher is monumentally stupid. As writer Mike Phillips said last week, you have to be downright dim not to know that such language is offensive in contemporary Britain.

For years, people have charitably described Carol as "eccentric", just as others use the same term of Sarah Kennedy. Ms Kennedy caused outrage when she said on her Radio 2 programme she didn't see a black man in the dark until he opened his mouth to yawn. The BBC apologised, but not on air. Both Ms Kennedy and Ms Thatcher like a few bevvies, but that's not really an excuse for lazy racism. Both seem rather sad middle-aged women, so perhaps coming out with unexpected offensive remarks makes them feel part of the cut and thrust of the youthful media world – who knows?

In 2007, I made a series for ITV2 with Carol, in which we drove black taxis. Carol declined to turn up for the final day's shooting, saying she felt unwell. That might have been the case, but it caused monumental problems for the production. It is thoroughly unprofessional not to complete a seven-part series you have been contracted to shoot.

Before Carol took part in I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! we had a drink. I told her the cameras would capture her every move, so I was astonished to see her urinating next to her bed in the jungle (the pictures were edited for transmission). Nevertheless, the public warmed to Carol and she was a popular winner.

She's a lonely character, who finds her mother's decline hard to bear, loyally visiting her nearly every day, whereas her brother has upped sticks to live abroad. And yet, she decided to reveal the extent of Baroness Thatcher's dementia in a book, something which many found unnecessarily intrusive. So Carol is, at best, a bit of a troubled character. It's interesting that initially she wouldn't apologise for her remark, claiming it was a "joke" when it clearly was nothing of the kind.

The BBC was right to axe Carol from The One Show, but, more importantly, they should start demonstrating consistency. The BBC1 controller Jay Hunt claimed Jonathan Ross wasn't sacked over Andrew Sachs, because he "was aware he had caused offence" – but he didn't apologise publicly for 11 days, and continued to make jokes about the incident off-air. BBC3 broadcast a revolting programme last month called Most Annoying People 2008, in which Radio 5 presenter DJ Spoony slagged off lesbians: "Let the munters and mingers get each other... no one really wants them ones." Referring to Lindsay Lohan and Samantha Ronson, he said: "When they're hot and fit, Hollywood superstars... they should be saved for other guys."

On the same programme, Ricky Martin was judged annoying because he refused to confirm or deny he was gay. Viewers called the show "half-witted student crap" and gay websites condemned it. But neither witless Spoony nor the BBC apologised, even repeating the programme. Meanwhile, Jeremy Clarkson, at a press conference in Australia, calls the Prime Minister "a one-eyed Scottish idiot". I doubt he will be reprimanded, as his brand, like Jonathan Ross's, is a valuable commodity to the cash-strapped corporation. But Carol Thatcher is very disposable.

Forever Young: Will on politics is a breath of fresh air

He's definitely got viewer appeal – Will Young's debut on 'Question Time' boosted the show to its highest rating in the current series, with more than 3.2 million people watching. Will might have a degree in politics from Exeter, but he seemed a little over-awed by the politicians on the panel: the Secretary of State for Transport Geoff Hoon (shouldn't he have been organising grit and salt to keep our roads open?), shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Theresa May and right-wing Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP.

Will and Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, both have a completely different way of expressing themselves to the hard-boiled politicos, who spent the entire show scoring points off each other and continually interrupting.

I've appeared on 'Question Time', and it's hard not to feel like a fish out of water. The way professional politicians talk, with all the rhetoric, point-scoring and prepared briefing notes, turns off most of the public, who are increasingly disenchanted and cynical about the difference between the main parties. Will looked a bit uncomfortable, and in truth he didn't say anything that remarkable, but he was a breath of fresh air, and will have brought thousands of younger viewers to the programme. More, please!

An icy blast of the good life

Snowed in all week in North Yorkshire. Last Sunday, drove up the hill by house but car slid back down. Monday, woke up to thick snow. Fed birds, ate leftovers. Tuesday, car stuck in garage, 18 inches of snow. Yorkshire Water owns road to local village but it's impassable. Wednesday, had to work in York so begged farmer for lift in truck. Emailed Yorkshire Water, urging them to grit road. School bus not coming down, too dangerous. Thursday, snowed again. Ran out of salt, on low-sodium diet. Buying minimal rations as have to carry home. Friday, reduced to talking to birds. Yorkshire Water refuses to grit road; so does council. No one cares about families marooned in the Dales. Saturday, eating my way through freezer. Farmer says snow predicted for the rest of month. Might build an igloo. How's that for green living?

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