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Gerald Ingolby on a commentating controversy

The newspapers today are full of the news that the BBC has received over 300 complaints about their commentators’ performance at the Women’s Slopestyle Final at the Sochi Olympic Games, during which Jenny Jones became Great Britain’s first-ever medallist on snow at a Winter Olympics.

Specifically, the complaints seem to have been directed at the glee with which the commentators had greeted the crash by a later competitor that effectively confirmed Jones would win the bronze medal.

Reviewing said event for the National Rust [9th February], I had mentioned said commentators’ antics, which had rapidly become a central plank in my overall enjoyment of the occasion – not least because they were such a contrast to what, historically, has been the BBC even-handed, supposedly impartial, approach to such things. At the time, I didn’t find the commentators’ reaction to the other competitor’s ‘wipeout’ offensive, nor did I mention it in my piece.

I have just two points to make today.

Firstly, 300 complaints – out of what I presume would have been a national television audience in excess of 3 million (and that may well be an under-estimate) – is absolutely nothing.

Secondly, of course, this 300 figure is just the number of people who could actually be bothered to complain – it doesn’t take into account the far-greater number of people who might have been similarly offended but didn’t feel moved to register a complaint – but, far more important, it completely ignores the number of people who, like me, actually enjoyed the ‘new style’ commentating on the Slopestyle events.

Last night, upon retiring to bed listening to Radio Five Live, I became incensed when I learned that the BBC had issued a po-faced apology to those who had been offended, albeit adding (in apparent mitigation) that it was an emotional occasion and perhaps the commentators had got a bit carried away.


mcdonaldHundreds of years ago, when I worked in ITV, I was responsible for the department that both liaised with the IBA on matters of programme taste, decency etc. and was tasked with monitoring viewers’ reactions in our ITV area. Part of the latter responsibility involved our telephonists logging all incoming calls from viewers on our watch. A daily report of these would arrive on my desk every morning.

When [now Sir] Trevor McDonald first began appearing on ITV’s main news programme News At Ten in the late 1980s – I cannot recall the exact year – it may or may not surprise National Rust readers that, in the London ITV area alone (never mind nationally), we used to receive between 800 and 1300 telephone calls every night from viewers demanding bluntly [words to the effect] “Get that effing coon off my television screen!”

After this, and countless similarly crackpot and/or [to those of any intelligence] offensive and stupid complaints on a vast range of other topics, one soon became both immune to the phenomenon and resigned to the fact that a significant proportion of the ‘great unwashed’ British television-viewing public – to whom we were broadcasting our vastly-expensive and lovingly-made programmes – were in fact one-eyed, prejudiced, slow-witted, morons.


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About Gerald Ingolby

Formerly a consumer journalist on radio and television, in 2002 Gerald published a thriller novel featuring a campaigning editor who was wrongly accused and jailed for fraud. He now runs a website devoted to consumer news. More Posts