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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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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.


    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.


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


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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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