Jonathan Ross likes to think of himself not only as a popular entertainer, but also as something of an agitator and affronter: a fast-talking, wised-up joker. He likes to shock and offend. The BBC may have suspended him this week, but only after indulging him for far too long, encouraging him to spew expletives as he interviews guests on his repulsive Friday evening BBC1 talk show and paying him more in one year (£6m) than the annual budget of the Today programme. Ross has done as much as any broadcaster to coarsen and debase our culture, and for this he has become the BBC’s highest-paid star.
Ross’s humiliation of the veteran actor Andrew Sachs – leaving abusive messages on his answerphone, which were then broadcast on a BBC radio programme – has rightly prompted widespread outrage. This is not public service broadcasting. This is not what we pay our licence fee for.
Ross, a cocky, vulgar jack-the-lad, is out of control. Mark Thompson, the cost-cutting director general of the BBC, must take ultimate responsibility for his star performer’s reckless behaviour.
As for Russell Brand, on whose Radio 2 show Ross was appearing when the cruel messages were left, one can only ask: who is he? The great Viennese satirist and scourge of Nazism Karl Kraus once said, “When I think of Adolf Hitler, nothing occurs to me.” To paraphrase: when we think of Russell Brand, nothing occurs to us.