November 7, 2008 / 5:07 PM / 10 years ago

BBC to issue on-air apology for "Manuelgate"

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s publicly owned broadcaster, the BBC, said it would issue on-air apologies on Saturday for an “offensive” prank phone call made by star presenters Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand that provoked thousands of complaints.

During Brand’s Radio 2 show on October 18, Brand and Ross left crude voicemail messages for the 78-year-old actor Andrew Sachs during a radio show.

The presenters joked that Brand had slept with Georgina Baillie, the 23-year-old granddaughter of Sachs, who played the Spanish waiter Manuel in the cult British comedy TV series “Fawlty Towers.”

Media coverage of the ensuing row, dubbed “Manuelgate” by newspapers, led to more than 30,000 complaints to the BBC and demands that the two entertainers be sacked.

Brand and Lesley Douglas, the head of Radio 2, resigned. Ross, one of the corporation’s highest paid stars, was suspended for 12 weeks without pay. The BBC said on Friday that another executive, David Barber, Radio 2’s head of specialist music and compliance, had also resigned.

The BBC Trust, which oversees the broadcaster, ordered the corporation to broadcast an apology for serious breaches of editorial standards.

The BBC said this would be done on Radio 2 at the times when shows hosted by Brand and Russell were usually broadcast.

“On 18 October, the BBC broadcast an exchange between Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross on the Russell Brand show on Radio 2. This concerned the actor Andrew Sachs and his granddaughter, Georgina Baillie,” the apology will say.

“Some of this exchange was left on the voicemail of Mr Sachs. The conversation was grossly offensive and an unacceptable intrusion into the private lives of both Mr Sachs and Ms Baillie.

“It was a serious breach of editorial standards, and should never have been recorded or broadcast. The BBC would like to apologize unreservedly to Mr Sachs, Ms Baillie and to our audiences as license fee payers.”

Baillie, who is a member of the Satanic Sluts dance troupe, said this week she now believed the two presenters should be reinstated.

“I was really angry when I said I wanted them both to be fired, but I think the suspension was good enough. So I’m feeling a bit gutted really about the whole thing,” she said in an interview aired on channel Five.

“I think it’s way out of proportion to what’s happened, and I don’t hate either of them.”

Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Kevin Liffey

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