Now what? - Lauren Booth reveals TV's banned words
Revealed: the words that could get you banned from television. Lauren Booth reports
I don't think I've actually ever sworn on national radio or TV. What I did do, though, was bumble my way into a live on-air nightmare on GMTV a couple of years ago.
After a pretty good week's run standing in for Lorraine Kelly, when I managed to both walk and talk at the same time on breakfast telly (quite a feat, I can tell you), Ross, the lovely presenter, turned to me and said, "So, Lauren have you enjoyed your time on GMTV?"
We had just seconds left for my big farewell. The farewell that would be so bright and memorable that the show's producers would immediately sign me up for a lifetime's contract. They would pay me so much money that I would buy a series of exclusive homes and instantly forget about world poverty and the horrors of globalisation, fretting only about the depth of my tan and what degree of leg waxing I should choose. An alternative future hung in my grasp, the pressure was immense, I had no time to think.
Grinning, I opened my arms out in that cheerful "hey guys" pose favoured by ladettes of the day and said loudly and clearly: "Yes, I've got the drug!"
The cheery music came up and I never heard from GMTV again.
What I meant was "I've got the bug". Tragically, as the lights were switched off, I remember saying pleadingly to anyone who'd listen, "I meant 'bug', don't you see . . . I love it so much I've got the bug, ha ha . . ."
At that time, Big Breakfast was setting the benchmark for how to win morning viewers. Soft swearing, such as "shag" and "slag" were the ultimate in cool over your cornflakes. How times have changed. An e-mail has been forwarded to me listing words that are verboten on Channel 4's new morning show, Ri:se. It threatens that "anyone allowing swear words to be used . . . will be held personally accountable . . ." and "a wallet-sized version [of the warning] will also be distributed so you can take it with you when you're out in the field".
In centuries to come, this wallet-sized warning will tell future generations just what the British public and media considered to be "sacred" or too crass for comfort. This list is in numerical order of offensiveness. So, without infuriating New Statesman readers (or the editor) here's a flavour of 21st-century values and sensibilities in broadcasting.
The top four words are all sexual: the c-word, the f-word, a term for someone who masturbates and the word most commonly used in rap music. "Nigger" is offensive on telly (but usually OK in print as long as it's in context). Other racial terms are way down the list: "Paki" is at number ten and "Jew" at number 23. I'd be in trouble here because I thought the word "Jew" could be used to describe someone who practises a religion and was no more objectionable than saying, "He's a Muslim" or "she's a Christian". Not any more. Suddenly, it's a term of abuse, as potentially dangerous to broadcasters as the word "Mandelson" was for a brief period in 2000.
There are one or two words on the list that I use every day - like "arse" (if I stub my toe) or "bugger" (when the computer crashes). They could get producers sacked even if a member of the public says them on their shows. Way down on the list, Christians have rallied to the defence of their saviour and protested that exclaiming "Jesus Christ" or "Oh God" is not just a sin that brings eternal damnation - even worse, it's a sackable offence.
But what I'm most curious about is this: what sort of people are they employing and interviewing on Ri:se that they need to be reminded that saying "f***ing", "p*i**" or "c**t" is unacceptable to most of the population?
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