It seems as though even raising millions for charity does not give you a ‘free pass’ from broadcasting standards, as Comic Relief, the BBC’s annual televised humour extravaganza aimed at supporting causes in the UK and Africa, was revealed to have earned over 3,000 complaints from viewers.
Regulatory body Ofcom (who themselves received 400 complaints from BBC viewers), along with the public broadcasters, claim to have recieved the high number primarily through a 3-minute sketch involving Mr. Bean star Rowan Atkinson, who portrayed a fictionalised version of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and made an address to the viewing audience that over 2,200 took issue with directly to the BBC.
As with many complaints of this nature, the primary concern was that the content was aired pre-watershed (before 9pm), but also that there was jokes that could be perceived as offensive to Christianity.
The jokes made included a claim that prayer “doesn’t work”, a comparison of boyband One Direction to Jesus’s disciples, and a reminder that Jesus told everyone to “…love your neighbours… but he doesn’t mean shag your neighbours”.
The latter quote was the lead reason for the public issue with the speech, but it was recognised that around a quarter of the BBC’s 2,200 complaints over the sketch was due to ‘the religious context’. In reaction to this apparent negative approval, the BBC have removed the segment from their catch-up service BBC iPlayer.
Despite the 3,000 complaints for the fundraising evening (during which a Call the Midwife/Doctor Who crossover sketch referring to the term ‘vajazzle’ was officially the second-most controversial topic), this year’s ‘Red Nose Day’ will have been considered a success as usual, with the star-studded telecast managing a peak audience of 12.2m people and raising over £75m for the charitable causes.
A BBC spokeswoman defended any controversy surrounding the complained-about sketches, stating that the ends justify the means especially on such an event. She stated: “[Comic Relief is] known for pushing at the boundaries of comedy alongside heartfelt appeal films. It is made for a varied and wide-ranging audience so getting the language, tone and content of the evening is extremely important to us. This year the programme was watched by a peak audience of 12.2m and we raised a record total of over £75m, but to any viewers we may have offended, we apologise.”
While Ofcom claim to currently be deliberating whether or not to start an ‘investigation’ into the complaints, you can judge for yourself below. Having made jokes at the Archbishop’s expense before (in 2003 spy film Johnny English), is Rowan Atkinson’s comedy unfortunately just much more appreciated when he famously keeps his mouth shut?
Meanwhile, for those people that were offended by the religious content in ‘The New Archbishop’ sketch, they had better brace themselves for the phrase ‘Hasa diga eebowai’, which through the medium of musical theatre will start hitting the English mainstream approximately… tonight. Please just remember the importance of context when you hear those words…