Margaret Thatcher Wizard of Oz track sparks chart debate

Wizard of Oz lobby card Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead was first heard in the 1939 film version of The Wizard of Oz

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Opinions are divided over whether a song at the centre of an anti-Margaret Thatcher campaign should be played on this week's Official Chart Show.

Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead could chart inside the top five on Sunday.

MP John Whittingdale said "it would be better" not to play it, while DJ Paul Gambaccini insisted: "It's not something to editorialise about."

A Radio 1 spokesman said a decision would be made "when the final chart positions were clear".

"This is an attempt to manipulate the charts by people trying to make a political point," Mr Whittingdale, who is chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport select committee, told the Daily Mail

"Most people find that offensive and deeply insensitive."

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, music critic Neil McCormick opined that "there is no reason for the BBC to risk upsetting many listeners just to satisfy a few troublemakers".

The paper also quoted former Conservative Party chairman Lord McAlpine, who said he was "absolutely astounded" the corporation was "even considering playing it".

Lady Thatcher's biographer Charles Moore: Thatcher is 'Dorothy' not 'wicked witch'

But Conservative MP Philip Davies said: 'It's a chart programme so if it's top of the charts they have to play it. It's not for the BBC to define on what basis something is in the charts."

During a visit to Oxfordshire on Friday, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said he did not feel the online campaign was "in very good taste at all" but that it was not for politicians "to start telling the BBC what songs they broadcast".

"Whatever your views are about the song or the campaign, or indeed about Margaret Thatcher, I really don't think we should start telling broadcasters what songs they should play," he told BBC South Today.

'Programme of record'

A number of media experts have told the BBC the Wizard of Oz track should be played, particularly if it charts inside the Top 10.

They include Trevor Dann, the BBC's former head of music entertainment, who said he could not see "any reason" why it should not be played.

"The chart is almost like a news programme; it's a programme of record," he said.

"It's not for the BBC to judge if it's an appropriate record for people to buy and therefore for them to play."

His position was echoed by radio consultant John Myers, who felt it should be played provided there was no reference to the campaign surrounding it.

"If you set up a chart show to play the nation's most purchased or downloaded songs, that's what you have to play," said Mr Myers, a former chief executive of the Radio Academy.

"You don't have to say why people have bought it, but you do have to play it."

Banned by the BBC

Perhaps the highest profile track to be banned by the BBC in recent years was Frankie Goes to Hollywood's debut single Relax, following its release in 1984.

Then Radio 1 DJ Mike Read was playing the thumping dance anthem on his Radio 1 chart show and removed the needle from the record midway through the song when the sexual nature of the lyrics suddenly dawned on him.

Read branded the record "obscene", vowing never to play it again, with the rest of the BBC swiftly following his lead.

But the airplay ban only served to increase the notoriety and popularity of the record and it went on to occupy the number one spot for five weeks, without the BBC's help.

When Frankie Goes to Hollywood's follow-up single Two Tribes went to number one, Relax climbed back up the charts to number two.

Later that year the ban was finally lifted and Relax featured on the Christmas Top of the Pops and Radio 1's countdown of the year's best-selling records.

Journalist and DJ Paul Gambaccini has expressed a similar opinion, telling BBC WM that the programme was "not a programme of choice".

"The Top 40 is the news of music," he went on. "It's not something to editorialise about - it's just fact. You can't change reality."

"I feel utterly sorry for all the chart shows," added Vivienne Pattison of Mediawatch UK, a group that campaigns for family values in the media.

"It's put them in a really invidious position.

"But chart shows exist to play the most bought or downloaded songs, and to change that is to interfere with a democratic process."

The track is also number one in the Capital Chart's Big Top 40. Earlier this week, its sponsor Vodafone said: "We simply sponsor the chart itself, we don't pass comment on the tracks it contains."

A spokesman for Capital FM said the station was currently "reviewing the situation".

Asked to comment on the subject earlier this week by BBC staff, the corporation's new director general Tony Hall said he found the campaign "pretty tasteless".

"But let's see," he continued. "If there's an editorial reason for saying it's number one, or it's the fastest riser, this week, we'll have to rethink."

Greg Dyke, a former director general of the BBC, said Lady Thatcher herself would have found the idea of not playing the track "ridiculous".

"If they don't play it they are making a political statement," he told Newsbeat's Chi Chi Izundu.

Nick Clegg: ''I really don't think we should start telling broadcasters what songs they should play''

The original track was performed in the 1939 Judy Garland film by characters celebrating the demise of the much-hated Wicked Witch of the East.

Opponents of Margaret Thatcher have been buying copies of the song following the former Prime Minister's death on Monday at the age of 87.

According to the Official Charts Company, Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead is currently on course to claim the number three placing in Sunday's countdown.

Meanwhile, an alternative online campaign has been launched to push the Notsensibles' light-hearted punk track I'm In Love With Margaret Thatcher to number one.

The single was initially released in 1980, following the former PM's election victory.

In 1977 the BBC refused to play God Save the Queen by the Sex Pistols when it charted during the Queen's Silver Jubilee celebrations.

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