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November 05, 2008

The Russell Brand/Jonathan Ross affair illustrates why young Britons are everywhere loathed and despised - says Theodore Dalrymple

Posted by Theodore Dalrymple

Theodore Dalrymple argues that the popularity of Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross tells us much about young people in Britain - and none of it is flattering.

Whenever anything untoward happens nowadays in a hospital or a prison, such as an accidental death or a suicide, the subsequent enquiry always examines what every bureaucrat knows to be the really crucial question: whether the forms were filled in correctly.

It is no exaggeration to say that hours, indeed days and weeks, of the labour of highly paid expert witnesses, advocates, coroners and judges are spent examining this Talmudical question (all at public expense, of course). Luckily, their labours are never wholly in vain, for the forms have been specifically designed, both in length and sheer number, so that they are most unlikely ever to have been filled in correctly. Blame can thus be doled out in small portions to those who, in some way, failed in their form-filling duties, who are usually several in number. The bereaved relatives will then go away convinced that the whole affair has been investigated most thoroughly, pedantry being mistaken in the public mind for thoroughness.

I am not sure when exactly the belief in the ability of forms (correctly filled) to avert all human disaster took hold of the official, legal and popular mind. Insofar as the greatest of all human disasters is the attachment of blame to people higher-up in an administration and, a fortiori, to their political masters, the belief might be said to be wholly justified. There is nothing quite like a fetish for procedure to disguise the essence of any situation.

Ofcom, the bureaucracy that describes itself as "the independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries", and whose staff increased from 23 to 776 between 2004 and 2005 alone (a fact that surely offers some insight into the nature of our current economic predicament), also believes in the efficacy of forms in distracting attention from the essence of an unpleasant situation.

According to The Times of 29th October, Ofcom will want to know why the BBC's "compliance systems" failed to prevent the now-notorious broadcast by Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross, in the course of which they made obscene telephone calls to a 78 year-old man about his granddaughter's sexual activities with one of them.

I quote The Times:

After the recording of The Russell Brand Show, the programme's producer, Nic Philps, a 25-year-old son of a vicar, would have been expected to fill in a compliance form detailing whether it had any offensive content. If Mr Philps judged that it did, he would have had to explain how he justified offending listeners… Ofcom will want to know whether that form was filled correctly, and if it was, who from the more senior echelons of the BBC countersigned it as required… An error by a relatively small-fry staff member can be explained away. If the top dog is involved, that is not so easy.
According to the website of Ofcom (as of 31st October):
It said editorial control and compliance procedures in non-news areas of the BBC's Audio and Music department were "inadequate and need to be strengthened".
It is no doubt slightly alarming that an organisation devoted to regulation of the "communications" industry should not make it clear whether the "it" of the sentence I have quoted refers to Ofcom itself or to the BBC Trust: but what is clear is that Ofcom considers that the problem is, at heart, one of inadequate form-filling rather than of something very much deeper. The fact is that, if no one has any judgement, then no amount for form-filling will supply the lack.

Let me pose the real problem. The senior management of the BBC has long seen fit to subsidise two serial vulgarians at enormous public expense. They are, indeed, paid to be vulgar: vulgarity is their stock-in-trade, though the euphemism "edgy" is used sometimes to describe the vulgar drivel that the peddle.

When one of them, Mr Ross, asked the leader of the opposition whether, as a 12 year-old boy, he had masturbated while thinking about Mrs Thatcher, the management of the BBC saw fit to do nothing (of the leader of the opposition's agreement to appear on the programme in the first place, I will say nothing). In the opinion of the BBC's management, therefore, this is the kind of enquiry that should be heavily subsidised by the British taxpayer.

The problem is not one of errors of judgement, but of faults of character. (The same, incidentally, might be said of the Deripaska affair.) It does not, after all, need even a fraction of a second's reflection to know that the offending telephone calls should not have been thought of, let alone made; and that, once made, they should not have been broadcast.

It is also obvious that the kind of people who think of such calls, make them, and then broadcast them, are the kind of people who should not be employed in any capacity whatever in the BBC.

Mr Brand's filmed statement that is available on the internet demonstrates that he does not understand the moral significance of what he did. He accepts that the phone calls were "really, really stupid," itself a self-exculpatory euphemism, and goes on to say that it was particularly stupid as the recipient of the calls was someone whom he greatly admired. This has the corollary, of course, that if the recipient had not been admired by him, and had been chosen, say, at random from a telephone directory or from the electoral roll, the calls would have been considerably less reprehensible. The appalling egotism of this hardly needs pointing out.

The argument in favour of the employment of these two state-subsidised vulgarians is that millions of people enjoy their work. No doubt this is so, but it is not at all to anyone's credit: it is, rather, a sad, and indeed tragic, commentary on the cultural condition of millions of people, a condition brought about, at least in part, by a corrupt elite that has consistently repudiated cultivation, refinement, subtlety and intelligence in favour of coarseness and stupidity.

A curious thing about the whole episode is that no one in Britain takes the trouble to think how it must appear in the eyes of foreigners. Included in the doctrine of multiculturalism, of course, is the arrogant demand that others must accept us as we are, which (among other reasons) is why the young British behave with such conspicuous vulgarity wherever they go, and makes them - rightly - loathed and despised.

Theodore Dalrymple is a writer and worked for many years as an inner city and prison doctor. He is the author of the author of Junk Medicine: Doctors, Lies and the Addiction Bureaucracy.

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If gladiatorial combats to the death were introduced tomorrow, they would be undoubtedly popular; and this, as the good doctor observes, would be no reason to approve of such entertainments.

Posted by: elberry at November 9, 2008 08:21 PM

Why should we care what foreigners think? We are yobs and we know we are and are proud of it. Next time we play Barcelona we'll sing a song about Sachs.
Sachs' real shame is the behaviour of his grand-daughter -
that is what will shock decent Spaniards.
Spaniards are used to offensive British broadcasting from seeing Fawlty Towers and are probably rejoicing over Sachs' discomfiture, The mocker mocked! Sachs demeaning of Spaniards and Catalans is the BBC's real crime not the latest petty hoo-hah.

Posted by: James at November 12, 2008 11:34 AM

Congratulations James, you managed to get the wrong end of the stick through the eye of a needle.

Posted by: Louis at November 13, 2008 10:08 PM
"Sachs demeaning of Spaniards and Catalans is the BBC's real crime not the latest petty hoo-hah."


Posted by: Paul at November 15, 2008 08:58 PM

"We know of nothing more ridiculous than the British public in one of its periodic fits of morality."
There are worse things on air every week.

Posted by: Michael Sherman at November 20, 2008 02:44 PM

If I remember rightly, the dubbed Spanish version of Fawlty Towers made the Sachs character an Italian.

Posted by: wally at November 22, 2008 06:56 AM

Just today I'm reading how anti-social behaviour costs the UK £1.5 billion per year, though it's stated as a 'disorder' rather than what it is - plain, boorish and criminal behaviour. The answer, states the report, is to throw even more money at it, via 'counselling' and psychiatric attention. Fighting, stealing, vandalism and violence towards people and animals are included in these 'victims' symptoms, the poor mites. Once again, the aggressor is now deemed the victim and can only be stopped via more resources, paid for ultimately by the real victims - the rest of the law-abing, tax-paying population. From a clip round the ear'ole, to a good whipping, through proper prison sentences and ultimately the gallows is the way to deal with all this, though obviously I'm a violent monster for even thinking of this approach towards the afflicted.

Posted by: Paul at November 24, 2008 09:17 AM

Dr. Dalrymple is,as always, correct regarding the overall moral and cultural implications of the Jonathan Ross affair.Yet our criticism of the BBC must be also an economic one-namely why should we pay for one particular broadcaster amongst scores ,given that is fairly easy to make TV and radio programmes.How would you react if the first £25 of your weekly shopping had, by law, to be done in Waitrose(for example), before you were allowed a free spend elsewhere?This,is a good analogy-I don't want to subsidise the BBC yet I have no option, if I am to watch any TV at all...Michael

Posted by: Michael Harris at November 24, 2008 03:46 PM
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