BBC Comedian's Joke Falls Flat

British Comedian Russell Brand resigns from BBC after thousands of complaints.

LONDON, Oct. 29, 2008— -- British comedian and "enfant terrible" Russell Brand this evening resigned from his radio job after his employer, the British Broadcasting Corp., received thousands of complaints about a lewd broadcast he presented.

The scandal, emanating from a schoolboy-style prank, has gripped the nation and hogged newspaper front pages and television airways for much of the week.

The BBC Radio 2 radio personalities Brand and Jonathan Ross, who was suspended, left vulgar messages on the answering machine of a 78-year-old actor, Andrew Sachs.

Sachs rose to fame as Spanish waiter Manuel in 1970s British sitcom "Fawlty Towers," created by John Cleese.

Brand's resume includes radio and television, acting, and a stint as a newspaper columnist. His rocker-cum-goth appearance, well-known in the United Kingdom, reached the United States this year when he played a sex-obsessed rock star in the movie "Forgetting Sarah Marshall."

Always a figure of controversy, Brand has incredible longevity. Despite being sacked from MTV in 2006 for dressing as Osama bin Laden, he hosted MTV's Video Music Awards in Los Angeles last month.

Brand also hit the spotlight over involvement with model Kate Moss and, in an uncanny parallel with his role in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," for being a recovered drug and sex addict.

Ross, meanwhile, is the BBCs highest-paid talk-show host, earning $30 million for a three-year contract.

Using explicit language, and laughing like a pair of hyenas, Ross said in an Oct. 18 broadcast that Brand had slept with Sach's granddaughter, Georgina Baillie.

Brand continued to joke that Sachs might kill himself on hearing the news.

The following week, on Oct. 25, Brand sang a light-hearted apology to Sachs on his radio show. But the comedian's sincerity was questionable, as he added that the prank "was quite funny" before replaying some of the calls.

On Sunday, Oct. 26, the incident made the news.

Inundated With Complaints

Few are denying the poor taste of the prank but, at the same time, not many expected a nationwide furor.

The prime minister has expressed his disapproval. Describing Ross and Brand's "clearly inappropriate and unacceptable behavior," Gordon Brown said that the BBC and regulators will have to decide what action to take.

But it was the opposition leader, conservative David Cameron, who raised the crux of the issue, asking why the BBC allowed the program to be broadcast, given that it was prerecorded.

"We need to know who made the decision to broadcast it? How high up the editorial chain did it go?" Cameron asked.

Thirteen members of Parliament have signed a motion criticizing the calls, and many others are calling for the pair to be sacked.

John Whittingdale, chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport select committee, called for an investigation into the BBC's editorial "failures."

The British public complained to broadcasting watchdog Ofcom, which consequently announced its launch of an investigation into the phone calls.

The Metropolitan Police also received complaints about the comments.

But the vast majority were received by the BBC: More than 27,000 people wrote to express their disgust.

But Ross and Brand have a large fan base, and their crude humor appeals to a certain audience.

Tim Shore, a disc jockey from Absolute Radio, spoke out in support of the pair when he appeared on BBCNews wearing a T-shirt, reading "I back Brand."

"People need to relax and get over it," Shore said. "I cannot believe this is front page [news] of every newspaper. Get something good to put on the news. This is pathetic."

Londoner Tom Laing, commenting on the scale of the incident, said, "I noticed that even Gordon Brown has been quoted on the subject. I'd like to think that our prime minister has better things to do with his time at the moment."

The Family's Reaction

Sachs told the BBC that he believed the messages should not have been aired. "I accept all apologies, but I'm not asking for them," the actor said.

But Baillie, his 23-year-old granddaughter, told British tabloid The Sun, "I think they should be punished. I think they should have their jobs taken away."

What the BBC Said

With former BBC deputy director general Will Wyatt declaring that "someone should take some pain" for what happened, the BBC announced this morning that it had suspended Ross and Brand.

BBC Director-General Mark Thompson described the incident as a "gross lapse of taste."

"I have decided that it is not appropriate for either Russell Brand or Jonathan Ross to continue broadcasting on the BBC until I have seen the full report of the actions of all concerned," Thompson said.

Why Such an Uproar?

As details unraveled, the reason for the uproar came to light.

First, the BBC is a state-owned corporation funded by licence fee payers.

Many ask why Ross, in the privileged position of highest-paid talk-show host, did not show more respect, especially considering his salary in the current financial climate.

But the blame has also spread to the BBC editorial team, because the discourse was prerecorded.

Nevertheless, the lewd material aired on Brand's BBC Radio 2 evening show.

BBC Suspends the Team

The escalation of complaints -- from two at the time of airing to 27,000 today -- placed increasing pressure on the BBC to act.

The BBC suspended the men this afternoon.

But the overwhelming reaction from the British public continued, so Brand resigned this evening.

"I now acknowledge it was a really, really stupid thing to do, particularly as Andrew Sachs is an actor and comic performer that I very much admire," Brand said in a video statement to the BBC.

"And it was certainly not my intention to hurt Andrew, a man I very much admire, or to embarrass his granddaughter Georgina.".

Ross hand-delivered flowers and a letter of apology to the actor, before releasing a statement to the BBC:

"I am deeply sorry and greatly regret the upset and distress that my juvenile and thoughtless remarks on the Russell Brand show have caused. ... It was a stupid error of judgment on my part, and I offer a full apology."

BBC's editorial standards team will launch an investigation into how such lewd material was allowed to air.