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Sunday 8 February 2009

Golly, Thatcher gaffe isn't such a big deal 

The firing of the Iron Lady's daughter simply highlights BBC bias and hypocrisy, believes, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards

It's an age thing. In one corner you have the over-40s, furious with the BBC for sacking Carol Thatcher because in the green room of The One Show, after a few drinks, she made what she says was a jest about a tennis player resembling a golliwog. In the other are young people who grew up thinking the term was inherently racist and as off-limits as wog, nigger and coon.

"It's about hair," I said plaintively to a twentysomething friend of mega-brain and great sophistication. "She's supposed to have said it about a black, but it could just as easily have been said about Andy Murray." (Indeed a fortysomething who knows the unruliness of my hair texted me early on Friday morning with: 'Get up out of bed u Irish golliwog'.)

My young friend was impervious. He looked at me sternly and said: "Some words are always unacceptable."

His mind was made up and there was no point in burbling to him about how, to fiftysomethings like Thatcher, gollies were cuddly toys or badges you collected from Robertson's jams. In the 1980s, I wore a Golly policeman badge in the hope of irritating local police whom I thought were harassing a young Nigerian friend. These days, that could get you arrested for inciting racial hatred.

There's the matter of hurt feelings, which is another chasm between old and young. Older people were brought up to shrug off slights and avoid making an unnecessary fuss. When I told my mother I had been flashed at in a park, rather than taking me to a counsellor she suggested a put-down line I could use the next time. (It was good, but not as good as that of the elderly lady who on reporting a flasher to the police explained that she had said: "Young man, I've seen larger things growing out of potatoes."). We think it ludicrous that if you feel offended by something I say, it's automatically my fault: over-sensitive people are a pain in the ass at work and play. But do we oldies not get offended and irritated? Indeed we do, but I'd suggest we have a sense of proportion. I gave up on the brilliant Russell Brand because I could no longer stand his infantile preoccupation with his penis; and the clever and creative Jonathan Ross when he turned into a dirty old man. I'll never understand how the BBC thought it OK to have their highest-paid performer asking David Cameron if he liked masturbating with the help of a photo of Margaret Thatcher, or telling Gwyneth Paltrow that he'd like to f**k her. Nor how they repeated, unedited, a comedy show hosted by Dara O Briain that had a mock quote from the queen: "I'm now so old my pussy is haunted."

That's not edginess, it's crassness, and betrays a sneering contempt for those perceived as uncool. There was nothing surprising about the repellent calls to Andrew Sachs about his granddaughter. Ross was suspended and is now back at work. Carol Thatcher has been fired, since her offence breached the all-important guidelines of political correctness. The offended were Adrian Chiles, a veteran presenter, and Jo Brand.

Jo Brand? The grossest female comedian around? The woman who recently said to a live audience: "Did you hear this, right, that BNP members and supporters have had their names and addresses published on the internet, hurrah! Now we know who to send the poo to!" The British National Party may be a nasty party, but they're a legal party, so when they complained, the police had a word with the producer, who relayed Brand's explanation that: "It was just a joke!"

According to the horrified Child's 'exclusive' in the Sun yesterday, in a discussion on the Australian Open, Thatcher said, "You also have to consider the Frogs. You know that froggy golliwog guy," and she was speaking of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who doesn't seem to have hair issues.

She said this in private, and unthinkingly, and in a reasonable world Childs or Brand should have tipped her off that such language is insensitive. But Brand and Chiles and BBC executives live in a little left-wing bubble where it is an article of faith that Margaret Thatcher was a monster and her daughter -- who won I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here because she was no-nonsense, plain-speaking, good-humoured and witty -- is some kind of right-wing dinosaur. So someone snitched on her, she said sorry, but insisted it was a joke. It was not, said the BBC executive, and what was required was 'a fulsome apology'. So to be forgiven, Carol Thatcher was required to recant, and when she had the effrontery to refuse, she was sacked and the story leaked.

Carol Thatcher will do fine. She'll be cleaning up making fun of this on the lecture circuit. Oh, and Jeremy Clarkson will do fine too. He's been forgiven for calling Gordon Brown a "one-eyed Scottish idiot" in public because he apologised for the adjectives though not for the noun. And, of course, because he makes millions for the BBC.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards