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Strong language at teatime on Radio 4

Sunday 18 April 2010, 21:25

Roger Bolton Roger Bolton

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Party

Whenever the BBC surveys its audience to find out what it least likes - bad language is usually at, or near, the top of the list. Even those who enjoy using occasional expletives in company don't seem to want to hear them on the radio, and certainly not when children are around.

So why did the Radio 4 comedy series 'The Party,' written by Tom Basden, which has just finished a run at 1830, do just that and include some? The programme's use of the sexual swear word which rhymes with tanker, and is often accompanied by a gesture, shocked some listeners and baffled others.

New radio comedies often undergo baptisms of fire, but 'The Party' was widely applauded in our mailbag, and many listeners hope there will be a second series - but minus the bad language which they felt spoilt the comedy and their enjoyment of it.

In Feedback this week I put these concerns and criticisms to the Head of BBC Radio comedy Jane Berthoud, and this is what she had to say:

Please tell us at what you think of that interview and the use of explicit language on air by adding your comments here or by contacting Feedback via the web site.

Roger Bolton presents Feedback on BBC Radio 4

  • Listen again, find out how to join Feedback's listener panel or subscribe to the podcast on the Feedback web page.
  • The picture shows the cast recording Party at The Pleasance, London. From left to right: Tom Basden, Tim Key, Jonny Sweet, Katy Wix, Nick Mohammed (sitting) and Anna Crilly. There are more pictures on the Radio 4 web site.

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    Comment number 1.

    I'm sorry to say but this is so typical of the immature, juvenile, content that now passes for "comedy" on Radio Four, cheap laughs, as mentioned on Feedback, the same 'picture' could have been painted using less offensive words, even if that sexual gesture/expletive was integral to the comic plot it could have been implied rather than used blatantly.

    6:30pm is a time when children are highly likely to be (at least passively) listening to the radio, not just in the home but in the car, with an even greater chance that they will hear such language even more clearly - also many older people will have been offended and not amused by such content. Whilst R4 might have got away with allowing such content later in the evening, even later in the programme, shortly after one of the main news bulletins for the day and so close to the start of the following programme - before many might switch off.

    Whilst I applaud R4 for not having a 'watershed' the reason it has never had to impose such an artificial boundary is because up till relativity recently (the last 5 to 10 years) it never courted such content, and any content that was difficult was there due to the subject and not out of choice and thus had a context that - if not easily - could explained should 'difficult' questions be asked by those with small ears...

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    Comment number 2.

    Great humour is often on the edge of what is socially acceptable, some people are bound to be offended, Boilerplated, yet the boundaries for what is acceptable are shifting all the time.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00r7l7j

    Although sometimes something of a prude, kleines c found 'Party' funny rather than rude, and would like to suggest that rather than give in to its critics, Radio 4 invites Tom Basden, Tim Key, Jonny Sweet, Katy Wix and Anna Crilly on to 'The Vote Now Show' for an election special.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00ry8mt

    Here is the concurrent discussion thread on the message board, Roger:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/mbradio4/F2766774?thread=7448177

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    Comment number 3.

    #2. At 6:51pm on 19 Apr 2010, kleines c wrote:

    "Great humour is often on the edge of what is socially acceptable"

    Yes, but the point people are making is that the same effect could have been achieved by more acceptable innuendo - considering the time slot - than the blatant use of a word that many (of all ages) still find unacceptable. Also, as I said, it wasn't great writing either, the use of such a word actually shows up the weakness of the script, the proof is that we are all now talking about the use of one word from the programme/series rather than the message behind the comedy. :-(

  • Comment number 4.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

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    Comment number 5.

    Nice idea, kleines c. I don't have any influence in this department but I'll pass your 'Party' election special idea to Victoria Lloyd, series producer on the Vote Now Show.

    Steve Bowbrick, editor, Radio 4 blog

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    Comment number 6.

    I don't see what all the fuss is about.

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    Comment number 7.

    I seem to recall that Frank Skinner dropped swearing from his act, the audience found him just as funny. Apart from making some people turn off, it ceases to have an effect when it is used routinely, as even Gordon Ramsay must know by now.

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    Comment number 8.

    Who's you'?

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    Comment number 9.

    Roger seemed to be under the impression the gesture was the V sign, because it was a double-V or something. In fact it is a mime that involves shaking the wrist with a loose fist to represent the act. This gesture is so much more childish and silly than the common flicking of a V that the description was necessary.

    Really this was hugely over the top: "WHAT IF CHILDREN HEARD??? WHAT IF THEY ASKED ABOUT IT??? AND SAID IT OVER AND OVER AND OVER AGAIN IN THE PLAYGROUND!!!" as if there would be a national epidemic of children saying the word. Very few would have heard it. Even less would have noticed it. Of those probably none would have repeated it as a direct consequence.

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    Comment number 10.

    I don't have a problem with the word that rhymes with tanker, but then I'm an old fart and a slut. Language barriers are changing, and I can't imagine many children being shocked at that particular word. It might provoke an enquiry to a parent, but in principle why is this different to a parent explaining any new term a child might hear on Radio4? (In this case, "a contemptible or ineffectual person". OED, QED.)

    Notwithstanding Roger Bolton's clunky attempt to rewrite the script, what fascinated me about the exchange with Jane Berthoud was the tale of how every potentially naughty word is referred up through a chain of approval, and this seemed excessive in my view - I would be content for Department Heads to make the call, even for the most extreme cases.

    Btw, I think the BBC ought to be more careful when referring to 'bad language' or 'strong language'. In this instance, the language wasn't bad, nor was it particularly great either, although it suited the weak comedic context. And 'strong language' seems to miss the mark as well - maybe 'coarse language' or 'coarse slang' would be more precise?

    Russ

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    Comment number 11.

    10. At 2:22pm on 21 Apr 2010, Russ wrote:

    "Btw, I think the BBC ought to be more careful when referring to 'bad language' or 'strong language'. In this instance, the language wasn't bad, nor was it particularly great either, although it suited the weak comedic context. And 'strong language' seems to miss the mark as well - maybe 'coarse language' or 'coarse slang' would be more precise?"

    But it was bad language, that is exactly what slang is, bad language, the only other descriptive word would be "Poor" - Poor [choice of] language at teatime on Radio 4 - but non of this touches on the fact that a sizeable proportion of the Radio Four audience would have regarded the language used as simply "Foul" and utterly unnecessary - programmes such as 'Sorry I haven't a Clue' have implied far worse sexual behaviour without using anything more course than double entendre...

    As I said way up, this has just shown how weak the script writing is, the writers might have a proven pedigree for the Edinburgh Fringe but they sure do not seem to have the vocabulary for the broadcast medium.

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    Comment number 12.

    I must admit, I was slightly taken aback by the use of the word during Party, and whilst I wasn't shocked or offended it did distract me from the next minute or two of what had been a brilliant series, so for me the programme had a negative effect on itself through use of the expletive.

    To be fair, there often seem to be either similar or borderline uses of language on Radio 4 pre-watershed, and I'm surprised only this instance really seems to have raised hackles lately.

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    Comment number 13.

    There was no gratuitous use of the word and it is a term of abuse familiar in many schools. Yes, there may have been a young kid somewhere addicted to Radio 4 comedy who politely raised his hand at the dinner table and when permitted to speak said: "Father, Mother, what does that word mean?" Parents have ways of dealing with these things and I have no doubt parents who listen to Radio 4 would have some of the best ways. What would Feedback prefer, thirty minutes of bible reading every night at 6.30?

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    Comment number 14.

    #13. At 12:01pm on 22 Apr 2010, newlach wrote:

    "There was no gratuitous use of the word and it is a term of abuse familiar in many schools."

    That's OK then, we can look forward to multiple instances of the "C" and "F" words being used in CBBC programmes then, considering that many kids already are aware of such words! The point is, there is no need to use such words, doing so only demonstrates a lack of vocabulary skills, how are parents going to educate their kids that the use of such language is often more damaging to the user than those who hear its use when kids hear/read its use on radio or television?

    "Yes, there may have been a young kid somewhere addicted to Radio 4 comedy"

    Nothing what so ever to do with being addicted to anything, many will have heard this content simply because the radio was on (either in the home or car), this was compounded by the time slot - being immediately after what for many is the main news of the day - as has been pointed out, had this sketch been on later, had double entendre been used, it would probably have gone uncommented on, the 6:30pm slot is a prime time slot because so many will have had been listening to the 6 O'clock news...

    "What would Feedback prefer, thirty minutes of bible reading every night at 6.30?"

    Of course not, just intelligent use of the language!

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    Comment number 15.

    I'm a 57-year old man, and work in a largely male office with people from their twenties to my age. Robust language is used by all of us from time to time, employing every English word in the dictionary. None of us find it in the least offensive, and it can be amusing. That's to explain that I'm no prude. Usually, when I'm listening to Radio4 on my way home, I turn off the 'comedy' slot at 6:30, for several reasons. First, I find it offensive to have to listen to strangers' toilet humour, either on the radio or in life. Mostly, it's very weak material: puerile, unfunny, derivative, crass and vulgar. Most of it is so bad that it's embarrassing, and rather insulting. One program this week opened by a woman narrating how a woman had just had sex with her best friend's husband, then a dramatisation of their post-coital conversation in which she described how noisy she is when she has an orgasm. It was really offensive on several levels, and completely lacked any kind of humour. I thought it incredible that anybody at the BBC thought it funny and that it was appropriate for a broadcast at a time of the evening when young children are going to be listening. The BBC needs to wake up to the fact that there just isn't enough genuinely amusing comedy talent around to be able to fill the half slot hour every day. As things are, it's like accidentally walking into a low bar where a bunch of coarse drunken bores are competing to tell the filthiest stories. Is this what the BBC aspires to?

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    Comment number 16.

    I knew that our children probably knew more "bad language" and current disgusting sexual innuendo than we did. However they had the sense not to use it at home, but to restrict it to when they were with their friends. It seems to me that a similar approach should be taken with Radio 4 particularly at 6.30. I cannot see why there shouldn't be a watershed at 9pm when if anything even greater risks could be taken after then. How are we going to encourage the next generation of listeners if they don't get into a listening habit at an early age? I thought it very ironic last Sunday on "Broadcasting House" that Professor Peter Hennessey got a very mild ticking off from Paddy O'Connell for saying "pissed off" and yet the "w" word (I suppose I must be cautious on here) was deemed OK for the 6.30 comedy slot.

  • Comment number 17.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 18.

    #17. At 11:16am on 30 Apr 2010, Juan Curr wrote:

    "Happy to broadcast sexual slang words at a time when many will find them offensive yet for some reason too coy to even include my name, Juan Curr, replacing it with 'you' in the header of a message board."

    Everyone is "You", not just you, I'm "You", Joe Blogs is "You", Steve Bowbrick is "You"...

    "You" is who you are, you see "You, I see "Juan Curr", you see "Boilerplated", I see "You" - if you see what I mean, posters own comments become "You", everyone else sees the posters user-name.

 

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