Frank Skinner's "Have I Got Bad Language For You?" report on last night's Panorama is worth seeing. I like the way he managed to look majestically unimpressed when talking to embarrassed defenders of TV profanity like Jana Bennett of the BBC and embarrassed critics of it like Charles Moore. Skinner has recently decided to reduce the amount of swearing in his act and found that it didn't in any way diminish the show's impact. I'm not surprised.
In real life swearing is, by its very nature, hard to justify. This doesn't mean we don't do it. I do it all the time in front of about a dozen people. I have known those people for a long time and I'm confident they're not offended by it. In broadcasting you can only justify it on the grounds of dramatic realism - though I fancy "Boys From The Black Stuff" and "Our Friends In The North" managed to convey a sense of real life without employing as much profanity as Gordon Ramsay needs to make an omelette.
Use it in humour and you're then in a position where you have to use it all the time. One "fuck" is never quite enough. You have to have an act peppered with "fucks" to maintain the tone. And whereas in a real life conversation you filter the profanities out, when you're just listening or watching each one seems to have greater than usual emphasis. The speakers are not swearing on your behalf. They're doing it at you. Al Murray, who's interviewed in this film, talks about comedy shows where the word has come down from on high to make it "edgier". I would take that to mean, can you make it less comfortable for some of the people watching? This is in the hope, usually false, that this will then make it more appealing to the section of the audience, usually younger, that we are trying to attract at the moment.
The one thing that swearing on TV can never claim to be is natural. This struck me recently when somebody swore on one of our Word Podcasts. I realised then that, with absolutely no regulatory framework, with an audience of consenting adults who had pulled the experience towards them rather than having it pushed into their living rooms, with a format that is designed to elicit the most intemperate reactions, we hardly ever swore. We did it but we did very sparingly and often prefaced it with "if you're in the car with the kids you might want to duck the volume here...." Just as you wouldn't swear on the bus in case you offended someone who was in hearing distance, we rarely swore in this context because, well, somebody might be listening.
Re: Panorama. What the bloody hell is Jeremy Vine doing at the beginning and end of that programme poncing around outside Television Centre? I hope my licence fee is not paying him for that.