- Caroline Thomson says one of the points of comedy was to cause offence
Caroline Thomson, chief operating officer at the BBC, insists that swearing is acceptable in comedies
One of the BBC’s top executives caused fury last night after she insisted it is acceptable for comedies to feature expletives.
Caroline Thomson, the corporation’s chief operating officer, claimed that one of the points of comedy was to cause offence and make her ‘flinch’.
Many of the popular and award-winning shows in the golden age of TV – including Porridge, the Good Life and Dad’s Army – never featured such bad language.
However, yesterday Miss Thomson appeared to condone the use of swearing.
Miss Thomson admitted that she did flinch at bad language on comedy shows, but said that was part of the reason for the genre.
‘Yes. I watch comedy shows and flinch,’ she said. ‘But I think sometimes that is one of the points of comedy.’
The BBC executive claimed there was an ‘enormous inter-generational difference about what is acceptable’.
She added: ‘It is very tricky because language that will give you offence, won’t give me offence. And language which gives me serious offence won’t give my son offence.’
But she pointed out there were lots of guidelines about the use swearing at the BBC, including adhering to the watershed.
Vivienne Pattison, director of campaign group Mediawatch UK, said the comments proved she was ‘out of step with her audience’. She added: ‘Ofcom do research every year asking if there is too much swearing on TV.
‘And more than 50 per cent of viewers say there is too much.
‘The idea that bad language in comedy is good – it’s not big, it’s not clever and it’s not funny.’
Last year, the Daily Mail commissioned a survey that found most people believe swearing on television is behind an increase in swearing by young people.
The poll of more than 800 adults by Ipsos Mori found that most people believe swearing on television is worse now than a decade ago, with women and people over the age of 55 the most concerned by levels of bad language.
A quarter of people said they had been offended by bad language on TV in the past year.
Miss Thomson was speaking at a Voice of the Listener and Viewer conference called Public Broadcasting Under Siege?
The executive also admitted TV is guilty of copycat programming, with broadcasters behaving like a ‘herd of sheep’. She said some channels resorted ‘too easily’ to ‘identikit programming’ where good ideas are ‘shamelessly and sometimes badly ripped off’.
Golden age: Classic BBC comedies like Dad's Army were popular yet never featured foul language
And she admitted that a few years ago she thought she ‘would scream’ if she saw another property makeover show, before it was replaced by a fashion for history shows and cooking.
Miss Thomson did not single out any broadcaster, but the BBC has in the past been criticised – with others – for its reliance on property and cookery shows.
Her remarks echoed those made by Sir David Attenborough in 2008 when he accused the BBC of filling its schedules with derivative and formulaic output.
Last summer, the BBC Trust criticised BBC1 and BBC2’s daytime programming as too similar, with lots of antiques and property programmes.
The BBC is by no means alone in having filled schedules with these types of shows.
It still airs property shows such as Homes Under the Hammer, Escape to the Country, and To Buy Or Not To Buy. ITV has May the Best House Win and Channel 4 is known for Grand Designs and Location, Location, Location.
Miss Thomson also said that by the BBC taking over direct control of the World Service, it will allow the corporation to remove ‘duplication’.
The executive, who earned £385,000 last year, admitted: ‘I think there are three different bureaus in Cairo. That is not a sensible way to spend money.’
She added that the BBC was ‘ruthlessly prioritising’ its spending in sport.
This comes as the BBC3 controller Zai Bennett admitted his channel was set to see a large increase in repeats due to cuts.