Have you ever disrupted a workplace meeting because you had way too much to drink beforehand?
If you have, you’re not alone.
Late night, midweek Channel 4 show After Dark booked the hellraising actor Oliver Reed to appear on a broadcast that was transmitted on 26th January 1991. The show’s format was a panel discussion involving guests from all sides of the political and academic spectrum who would discuss a contemporary topic.
In the programme, which was entitled ‘Do men need to be violent?’ A clearly inebriated Reed joined the panel of notable intellectuals and his enthusiasm for the subject in question was such that he had already begun to discuss the issue before the cameras started rolling. He was also alleged to have challenged fellow guest and writer Neil Lyndon to a fist fight outside in the green room. Once the cameras started rolling, Reed began to deliver a bizarre monologue about a man dancing with his heels in the air whilst glugging from a huge wine glass at regular intervals.
As the conversation moved on to the subject of a woman who had tried to castrate her partner with a carving knife, Reed said, ‘I’d say to the woman I’ll put my plonker on the table if you don’t give me my mushy peas.’
Over the next hour, Reed’s fellow guests tried in vain not to engage with him, yet the more he was ignored, the more disruptive he got.
When the feminist author Kate Millett, who was sat next to him complained about his behaviour he simply referred to her as ‘big tits,’ and when a male guest joked that they should go ‘tache to tache’ with each other, Reed suggested they replace the facial hair with a much less printable part of the female genitalia.
A member of the production team wrote after the broadcast that Reed “got famously sloshed but perhaps not quite as much as viewers may have thought (or as other guests had been – the drinking record was apparently held by the philosopher AJ Ayer).”
Although Mr. Reed was by no means the only disruptive guest that had ever been on After Dark, what gained attention for this particular show was C4’s behaviour as much as Reed’s. The channel took the show off air for 20 minutes and instead filled the slot with an old documentary about coal mining. When the programme returned to air, Reed was still on the set being disruptive.
Reed’s behaviour that night was certainly causing concern, but neither the production team nor the host Helena Kennedy felt the situation had got out of control. Kennedy had told the guests that they could decide themselves whether to ask Reed to leave the set.
In a further twist to the tale, as the then commissioning editor of After Dark, Mr. Michael Atwell was watching the show, he was telephoned by someone that said they were the “duty officer” of the Independent Broadcasting Authority. The individual said that an angry Michael Grade, who was then Chief Executive of C4, had demanded that the programme be pulled off air.
The production team explained to Mr. Atwell that After Dark often received hoax calls and that the matter should be referred to C4 management first, but despite this, Mr. Atwell proceeded to halt the transmission without further consultation.
The live transmission was then put back on air 20 minutes later after it transpired that Michael Grade was in fact away on his boat after Mr. Atwell sought further assistance on the matter from Liz Forgan who said the transmission should be put back on.
Reed was eventually asked to leave the set by the other guests some time after the show resumed transmission and whilst Mr. Atwell managed to keep his job at C4, the show was axed at the end of that series.
Victor Lewis-Smith later boasted of his hoax call via his column in the Daily Mirror where he wrote: “The show was taken off air not by C4, but by… little-old-wine-drinking-me, sitting at home, far from the TV studio…. Once connected, I shouted: ‘Michael Grade is furious about this. Take the bloody programme off… now!’
The then Deputy Programme Director of Channel 4, Mr. John Willis, subsequently wrote an internal memo that said: “Oliver Reed got drunk and a hoaxer caused the programme briefly to be taken off air. I view the latter with a great deal more seriousness than the former… 1,000 calls from an audience estimated at just 300,000. Remarkable.”
Whatever your view on the chaos, try to think back to a time when you yourself managed to cause outrage in the workplace as a result of consuming too much alcohol before debating a serious issue with colleagues – it’s fair to say that you might have been invited to leave your job rather than just being asked to leave the room.