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Feedback: Censoring music

Friday 15 March 2013, 15:42

Roger Bolton Roger Bolton

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Roger Bolton Roger Bolton, presenter of Feedback

Here is your starter for ten.

What do Bob Dylan, Lulu, Arthur Askey, Wings, Shirley Bassey and Tom Lehrer all have in common with George Formby?

The answer has nothing to do with cleaning windows but, here's a clue, it does have a connection with a "Little Stick of Blackpool Rock".

As you have probably guessed, all those artists have had records banned by the BBC, albeit for a wide variety of reasons, from sexual innuendo (GF of course) to inappropriateness at time of war (Lulu's Boom Bang-a-Bang).

BBC music networks do not find these issues easy to deal with. On the one hand they want to remain credible with their audience and show that they are in touch with the latest trends, on the other they have OFCOM and the BBC Trust hovering in the background, and some newspapers doubtless hoping for another, so called, SCANDAL AT THE BEEB.

If broadcasters do ban a record of course, the makers of it get lots of free publicity and often enhanced sales as a result.

An interesting compromise is when artists make two versions of a song. One is unexpurgated and for sale, the other is adapted for broadcast.

In Feedback this week we look into this complex issue with the help of DJs and Radio 1's Head of Music Policy. The immediate cause of our interest was a listener's email which noted that Elvis Costello's Oliver's Army, which was released in 1979, had been edited for broadcast 34 years later.

Here is our report:

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Roger Bolton discusses if and when it's appropriate to censor music.

I should perhaps declare an interest. I love the American satirist of the 50s and 60s Tom Lehrer, but even I would acknowledge that playing the "Vatican Rag" over scenes of the new Pope greeting his flock in St Peter's Square, Rome, could be thought offensive.

It really is worth listening to though.

"First you get down on your knees

Fiddle with your rosaries..."

I'd better stop there.

Happy Listening.


Roger Bolton presents Feedback on Radio 4.

Listen to this week's Feedback
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    Comment number 1.

    What's really being discussed is the censoring of words, of songs, rather than music per se, isn't it?

    However, the latter does happen, and the most recent example which springs to mind is of the former Burmese regime's prohibition of rhythmic dance music. The result was a rather odd form, where the time signature kept changing from bar to bar.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Dismayed to hear on R4 feedback programme that Quentin Cooper is soon no longer going to be the main presenter on the Material World problem.

    He's brilliant at explaining things, quizzing people, adding humour and making science fun and interesting.

    Where can I start a re-instate him campaign.....?

    Have been listening to the programme for five plus years and he adds a magic touch to most discussions.

    Whoever's in charge of appointments has made an awful error !

    You're going to lose a lot of listeners by farming him off elsewhwre !!

    Mike Davis

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Very disappointing to hear this wrong judgement call on 6Music.

    Very simply, if a song contains language unsuitable for the time of day, save it for another show when it can be played in full.

    And if all else fails and you must censor on-air, then for &$£% sake use a bleep and don't mess with the time signature of the melody.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Excising the n-word from the song was a nonsense. Was it excised because it draws attention to the embarrassing fact that a section of the English once viewed the Irish as sub-human, but justified on the grounds that people find the word offensive? There should be no "judgement call" about the matter, just play the full song in future.

    Of course, it would be wrong to play all songs all the time. I have not heard too much "hip-hop" but if a programme devoted to this stuff has to pick from songs containing phrases like "mother f*&£er" and "slap the %i$*£" great care has to be exercised in choosing the playlist. I take the point made by the DJ about the divergence in views between listeners and BBC senior managers, but amongst those listeners will be many with warped minds that require medical attention rather than a steady stream of violent hip-hop lyrics.

    I looked through the list of songs banned by the BBC and I hope that by watching Birkin and Gainsbourg I will get the song out of my head!.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    I suspect delegated decisions, to perhaps young people, with little authority and experience, yet who would nonetheless take the blame if opprobrium were attached to the BBC, is at the root of the Costello edit. The executive producer was perhaps on the golf course.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    I thought this was a bit gutless. To my ears the words are melded together 'white-nigger' and have a particular reference to British imperial perceptions of the Irish that the song seems to allude to (Cromwell; the New Model Army).

    How many complaints do 6 Music get about certain words anyway? I'd imagine this is some gutless, corporate post-Brand/Ross security blanket deal. Since I've heard this uncensored on Radio 1 and Radio 2 in the past, plus local stations and TV (when the video is showing), I'd say this was overkill.

    I think the policy should be - play uncensored or don't play at all. Annoying splices over certain words is just tedious and distracting....

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    I find it offensive in the extreme.
    The censorship, that is.


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