How Sandi Toksvig started a C-word storm at the Mail
BBC exec in the Kensington doghouse after judging that 'delight' at joke would outweigh offence caused
The Daily Mail, always on the lookout for "indecent" slip-ups at the BBC, is back on the warpath. After the Ross and Brand saga and, more recently, Simon Amstell, the paper has lit on the much-loved comedienne and broadcaster Sandi Toksvig and a joke she cracked on The News Quiz last October.
The joke involved what the paper calls "the most offensive word in English". Actually, the C-word was never broadcast. What Toksvig said on the popular Radio 4 show was: "It's the Tories who have put the 'n' into cuts" - leaving it to the listeners to work out the obvious.
What has exercised the Mail is that an offended listener, Colin Harrow, was fobbed off by the Beeb with a rejection of his complaint.
The BBC admitted that the joke had been cleared before it was aired by Paul Mayhew-Archer, who at the time was commissioning editor of Radio 4 comedy.
Mayhew-Archer said it was his job to balance the offence the joke might cause some listeners against the "delight" it might give others. "I say delight because I thought it was a good joke and I knew that a huge number of fans of the programme would love it," he said.
For good measure, Mayhew-Archer went on to argue that the C-word "does not seem to have quite the shock value it did". Maybe not at Broadcasting House.
Intriguingly, Colin Harrow, the man who found the joke unacceptable, is a former journalist now retired from the hurly-burly of Fleet Street to the Lake District where he paints landscapes and portraits - presumably to the accompaniment of Radio 4 - and sells his art through a gift shop in Cockermouth.
Had he worked on the Mail rather than the Mirror, he might not have been so easily offended.
Indeed, London journalists were amused yesterday to see the Mail of all papers describe the C-word as not only "the most offensive word in English" but also the "most abhorrent to women".
The paper's own editor-in-chief, Paul Dacre, has been known to employ it so liberally that, as Nick Davies pointed out in his book Flat Earth News, the morning editorial conference at the Mail's Kensington HQ is dubbed by staffers 'the Vagina Monologues'. ·
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