31 Oct 2008

British radio boss resigns over prank phone calls

4:17 pm on 31 October 2008

The head of Britain's most popular radio station has resigned over offensive prank phone calls made by Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross to actor Andrew Sachs.

The broadcast, described as "completely unacceptable" by BBC's boss, has resulted in thousands of complaints and tabloid-newspaper overload.

Radio 2's Lesley Douglas told BBC Director-General Mark Thompson she took responsibility for the furore over messages left on the former Fawlty Towers actor's answerphone.

Brand has resigned from his BBC radio show and issued an apology while Ross has been suspended for 12 weeks as an investigation is carried out.

Sachs was upset after Brand and Ross left a series of lewd messages on his voicemail as part of a pre-recorded show, taped on 16 October.

The duo had joked on air that Brand had slept with the granddaughter of 78-year-old Sachs, who played Spanish waiter Manuel in the Fawlty Towers, and said Sachs might kill himself after hearing messages left on his phone.

The 47-year-old Ross also issued a public apology for his role in the row, dubbed "Manuelgate" by newspapers.

"It was a stupid error of judgment on my part and I offer a full apology," Ross said.

More than 27,000 people have complained to the BBC over the offensive messages left on the answerphone of Sachs, which Thompson described as a "gross lapse of taste" and a "completely unacceptable broadcast".

The row continued to dominate the deadlines, making the front page story of almost every national newspaper.

Commentators said BBC managers were desperately trying to contain the fallout it had caused and to save the career of Ross, one of the corporation's highest profile and best paid TV and radio stars.

Politicians have also been entering the fray, with Prime Minister Gordon Brown among the voices condemning the presenters' actions.