Entertainment & Arts

Ross Noble Elephant Man joke cleared by BBC Trust

Ross Noble
Image caption Ross Noble made the joke on the episode broadcast in June last year.

Comedian Ross Noble's impression of "elephant man" Joseph Merrick during an episode of Have I Got News For You did not breach editorial guidelines, the BBC Trust ruled.

A viewer had complained over the joke broadcast in June 2012, saying it was "gratuitous" and "offensive".

The Trust did not uphold the complaint and ruled the comic had not been mocking people with a disability.

But it said the joke was "on the margins of acceptability".

In the segment, Noble and Have I Got News For You regular, Paul Merton, were joking about an advert in which the actors were speaking with their mouths full.

Using the name by which Merrick was often later called, Noble joked the actors had trained at the John Merrick Academy of Drama and performed the famous line "I am not an animal" from the 1980 film The Elephant Man, in a slurred voice.

In its ruling, the Trust said the comic had been making reference to the screen portrayal of Merrick by actor John Hurt in the film rather than stereotyping people with disabilities.

"The root of the comedy lay in the commercial and, as such, was editorially justified and had a clear editorial purpose," the BBC Trust said.

"The remarks were editorially justified because they referred to the actors in the commercial," the Trust added.

However the committee agreed some viewers could be offended.

"The impersonation of John Merrick's speech and physical disability, in particular, was at the margins of acceptability," they said.

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