BBC suspends star for 3 months over British radio prank

Thu Oct 30, 2008 5:53pm EDT
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by Adrian Croft

LONDON (Reuters) - The British Broadcasting Corporation suspended one of its highest paid stars on Thursday over a lewd radio stunt that outraged thousands of listeners and fueled a storm of criticism of Britain's public broadcaster.

Popular presenter Jonathan Ross, who is reputed to be paid six million pounds ($9.9 million) a year, will be suspended from all BBC broadcasting for 12 weeks without pay, the BBC said.

The scandal, which has swept the financial crisis off the front pages and dominated the airwaves for days, is over a stunt in which Ross and another top presenter verbally abused a 78-year-old comedy actor in a radio stunt that went wrong.

"Jonathan Ross's contribution ... was utterly unacceptable and cannot be allowed to go uncensored or without sanction," BBC Director-General Mark Thompson said in a statement.

The incident is deeply embarrassing for the BBC which enjoys a high reputation around the world for the quality of its news and other programs.

Russell Brand, a motor-mouth comedian with a burgeoning Hollywood career, and Ross left insulting messages on the answering machine of Andrew Sachs, best known for playing the hapless Spanish waiter Manuel in the well-known British comedy series "Fawlty Towers" in the 1970s.

The pair joked about how Brand had slept with Sachs'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.   Continued...

<p>A British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) building is seen in White City in western London October 29, 2008. REUTERS/Alessia Pierdomenico</p>