BBC suspends TV stars over "juvenile" radio prank

Wed Oct 29, 2008 4:06pm EDT
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By Luke Baker

LONDON (Reuters) - The British Broadcasting Corporation suspended two of its most successful and highly paid presenters on Wednesday after they verbally abused a 78-year-old comedy actor in a radio stunt that went wrong.

Russell Brand, a motor-mouth comedian with a burgeoning Hollywood career, and Jonathan Ross, one of the most highly paid presenters on British television, were suspended for a "gross lapse of taste" during a radio appearance 10 days ago.

In the pre-recorded show, the pair left insulting messages on the answerphone of Andrew Sachs, a comedy actor best known for playing the hapless Spanish waiter Manuel in the well-known British comedy series "Fawlty Towers" in the 1970s.

In the off-the-cuff calls, the pair joked about how Brand had slept with Sach's 23-year-old granddaughter, and how when Sachs heard the messages he was likely to kill himself.

The program was broadcast late at night on October 18 and initially attracted little attention, with the youth audience it pulls in apparently not shocked or surprised by the content.

But following coverage in the rest of the media, including transcripts of the calls in which Ross, 47, and Brand, 33, swear and make sexual innuendo, complaints rocketed, with more than 18,000 people making a point of registering their disgust.

Ross and Brand, who caused controversy in the United States earlier this year with his hosting of the MTV music awards, apologized to Sachs and the public. But the apologies were perceived to be too late and not sufficiently sincere.

Stunned by the furor, the BBC announced that Brand and Ross, who is said to have a three-year, 18 million pound ($27 million) contract with the broadcaster, were suspended.   Continued...

<p>Host Russell Brand is interviewed during a news conference previewing the 2008 MTV Video Music Awards in Hollywood, September 4, 2008. REUTERS/Phil McCarten</p>