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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.

Comments

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  • Comment number 18. Posted by TV Licence fee payer against BBC censorship

    on 30 Apr 2010 13:20

    #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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  • Comment number 17. Posted by U14361660

    on 30 Apr 2010 10:16

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

  • Comment number 16. Posted by cherrytree

    on 25 Apr 2010 14:20

    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.

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  • Comment number 15. Posted by jacquot

    on 24 Apr 2010 14:53

    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 14. Posted by TV Licence fee payer against BBC censorship

    on 22 Apr 2010 11:30

    #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 13. Posted by newlach

    on 22 Apr 2010 11:01

    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 12. Posted by Stephen Webber 1971

    on 22 Apr 2010 10:34

    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 11. Posted by TV Licence fee payer against BBC censorship

    on 22 Apr 2010 09:52

    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 10. Posted by Russ

    on 21 Apr 2010 13:22

    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 9. Posted by somename

    on 21 Apr 2010 12:45

    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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