October 31, 2008 / 3:11 PM / 11 years ago

BBC star steps down from show on rival broadcaster

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - British television star Jonathan Ross has backed out of presenting an awards show because of the furor caused by crude prank phone calls he made with another presenter on a BBC radio show, ITV said on Friday.

A combination photo shows Jonathan Ross (L) as he arrives at the Business Design Centre to attend the 51st British Academy Film Awards April 11, 1999 and Russell Brand during a news conference previewing the 2008 MTV Video Music Awards in Hollywood September 4, 2008. REUTERS/Kevin Coombs/ Phil McCarten

The 47-year-old TV chat show host’s decision to step down from ITV’s 2008 British Comedy awards program — a show he was reportedly to be paid 100,000 pounds to host — follows his three-month suspension without pay by the BBC.

“We respect Jonathan’s decision to stand down from the 2008 British Comedy Awards which has been made with the full support of ITV and the show’s producers,” said ITV director of television Peter Fincham in a statement.

A spokesman for Jonathan Ross added: “It’s a show he very much enjoys being part of but would not want his participation in this year’s event to take away from the awards themselves or the many talented winners of the awards.” The BBC is hoping its decision to suspend Ross, one of its highest paid presenters, will end the crisis that also prompted the head of Radio 2 Lesley Douglas to quit.

The BBC acted on Thursday after the “deplorable” messages left on actor Andrew Sachs’s phone by Ross and British comedian Russell Brand drew 30,000 complaints, criticism from Prime Minister Gordon Brown and media condemnation of its handling of the episode.

Following an emergency meeting between BBC Director-General Mark Thompson and the BBC Trust, the BBC’s independent governing body, Ross was suspended without pay but kept his job for what Thompson described as his “utterly unacceptable” behavior.

With Thompson telling Ross he was on a “final warning,” Douglas, who was appointed controller of the music and chat station in 2003, then made the decision to quit.

The prank had already led to the resignation of Brand, 33, a flamboyant comic who has branched out into acting in Hollywood films including the romantic comedy “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.”

The row erupted after the duo joked Brand had slept with the granddaughter of 78-year-old Sachs, who played Spanish waiter Manuel in the cult comedy series “Fawlty Towers.”

They also joked that Sachs might kill himself after hearing messages left on his phone.

Newspapers said the BBC had taken far too long to take action and Douglas was an unfortunate victim.

“The BBC wakes up to decency,” said the front page headline on the Daily Mail, one of the most vociferous critics of the corporation.

The BBC Trust, which said the calls were a “deplorable intrusion” into the privacy of Sachs and his granddaughter, said the BBC’s editorial control in areas other than news gathering was inadequate and must be strengthened.

“I have no doubt that the BBC has to be much firmer over these excesses,” Sir Michael Lyons, the Trust’s chairman, told BBC radio.

“But we have to be careful in doing this that we do not retrench to a position where we are no longer willing to take a risk, we’re no longer seen as relevant ... and we fail to speak to a group of our citizens who are not only our viewers and listeners of tomorrow but our society of tomorrow.”

Reporting by Michael Holden and John Joseph, Editing by Paul Casciato

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