Commentary (The Times)

MT: “BBC to ban repeats of Ross versus Cameron” (controversial interview comments on MT)

Document type: Press
Source: The Times , 31 July 2006
Journalist: Andrew Pierce, The Times
Editorial comments:
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 882 words
Themes: Media

BBC to ban repeats of Ross versus Cameron

By Andrew Pierce

THE BBC is to ban any repeats of Jonathan Ross’s interview with David Cameron in which he asked lewd questions about whether the Tory leader had had teenage fantasies about Margaret Thatcher.

The Times has learnt that a warning notice will be attached to the video in the BBC archive after a decision at the highest management level. The move is a tacit admission by BBC chiefs that the questions by Ross, their highest-paid presenter, had overstepped the boundaries of decency.

The BBC was given 24 hours notice of the content of the programme, made by the independent production company Open Mike, but failed to censor the now notorious exchange about whether Mr Cameron as a schoolboy had sexual thoughts about Mrs Thatcher in stockings.

A senior BBC source told The Times: “Publicly we are defending this to the hilt but privately we are conceding it will not be shown again. There is a body of opinion within the BBC which, while they worship Jonathan Ross, regard that interview as on the edge of what is tasteful.”

The first example of the ban on repeats came on Thursday night when Andrew Neil said on the BBC One programme This Week that he had been refused permission to show the clip. The source added: “Lady Thatcher remains a legitimate object for satirists, as she remains a major political figure who opted to be one. We do have to tread carefully as Jonathan Ross is a talented and very popular presenter who likes the BBC because it gives him leeway.

“It is also true that his show is aimed at an audience which is of a certain age group in the 30-plus area who expect the show to be edgy and racy. We do argue and will argue that to show it once is defensible, but to show it twice is not.”

But Ross, who faces an investigation by the broadcast regulator Ofcom, has said that if Mr Cameron had objected to the inclusion of the questions about Baroness Thatcher, they would have been removed. In a statement read out on Question Time on BBC One on Thursday, Ross said: “If Mr Cameron had felt awkward we would have removed the question and answer. But none of his people thought it was a problem and neither did the people I work with, which is why we left it in.”

Peter Fincham, the Controller of BBC One, will be consulted if there is a request to repeat the footage from satire shows such as Have I Got News for You. There are also likely to be requests if the programme is repeated on BBC Three or BBC Four or in any interviews by other broadcasters with Ross. The source added: “We will not licence any repeats.” Friday Night with Jonathan Ross is broadcast on BBC One at 10.45pm and the audience for the Cameron interview was about 3 million. Only seven complaints were received by the BBC after the broadcast.

The number rose to about 360 after newspaper reports of the interview, including demands from some Tory MPs for Ross to be dismissed. The broadcast regulator Ofcom has received 226 complaints and will investigate whether there has been a breach of its code.

Ross had asked Mr Cameron, who was 12 when Mrs Thatcher became Prime Minister in 1979, if he had schoolboy sexual fantasies about her. The Tory leader tried to change the subject but Ross persisted and Mr Cameron was reduced to nervous laughter.

Mr Cameron decided to do the interview after being urged on by his advisers. His office failed to return telephone calls yesterday.


Ross: Let me ask you a question which you may consider a little risqué. How old were you when Lady Thatcher, back then just plain Margaret Thatcher, was first elected?

Cameron: 12, 13, something like that.

R: That is a time in a boy’s life when you begin to look around for women who are attractive.

C: This is when I realise why politicians never come on the show.

R: I put it to you sir, that as a young man, you may have rejected, but I think you probably considered, Margaret Thatcher in a carnal fashion. As indeed we all did.

C: I wasn’t that interested in politics when I was 13.

R: We’re not talking about that.

C: I wasn’t really following it all very closely.

R: Did you think of her as a woman? Do you think she might be pin-up material?

C: No.

R: You didn’t want to see her in stockings?

C: No.

R: What do you think the best things that were achieved during her period?

C: She sorted out the trade unions and inflation. [There follows a discussion about Thatcher’s achievements.]

R: But did you or did you not have a w*** thinking “Margaret Thatcher”?

C: [Laughs]

R: See I’m like Paxman. See the way I do it?

C: [Laughing] He didn’t quite go that far. Not that bad . . .

R: No, that was a bit low. I apologise. I tried, but it was a challenge even for me.