Have you ever done something at work that was so reprehensible it sparked over 37,000 complaints to the BBC and outrage in the national press?
If you have, you’re not alone.
Comedian Russell Brand and TV presenter Jonathan Ross made prank calls to much-loved actor Andrew Sachs’ voicemail that led to controversy back in October 2008. Brand and Ross called Mr. Sachs to interview him live on-air and when he didn’t answer the call, they left a series of lewd and offensive messages on his answering machine that included comments about a relationship Russell Brand had in the past with Andrew Sachs’ granddaughter, Georgina Baillie.
Brand initially joked about Fawlty Towers and the fact that both he and Sachs had appeared in The Bill in the first message the pair had left, but was then interrupted by Ross who yelled “he fucked your granddaughter”. The rest of the message and the three messages that followed were mainly comprised of Brand and Ross attempting to apologise for Ross’s outburst, but then swiftly descending into farcical behaviour, with one example being Brand singing to Sachs: “It was consensual and she wasn’t menstrual” and Ross asking to marry him. Brand said later that listening back to those calls is like hearing ‘two idiots dancing towards a canyon.’
Despite the incident sparking little controversy initially, a 26th October article in The Mail on Sunday newspaper led to a barrage of public criticism.
The scandal led to Brand and Ross being criticised by various Members of Parliament including the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and the BBC received a record number of complaints from the general public.
Both Russell Brand and the controller of Radio 2, Lesley Douglas ended up resigning from the BBC. The BBC also suspended Jonathan Ross without pay for 12 weeks on the 30th October and the BBC was fined £150,000 by Ofcom.
Have a listen to the clip below and ask yourself if you could ever imagine leaving an extremely offensive message on somebody’s voicemail that resulted in you and some of your colleagues losing their jobs. It’s fair to say that if you did, you probably wouldn’t end up as rich and famous as Messrs Ross and Brand still are today.