Live at the Apollo is not the place for crude comedy

RT's TV editor Alison Graham loves bawdy humour - but not when it's on BBC1

A warning: there is filth in this column. Lots of it. Real muck. Sordid jokes about s*x and b*dy p*rts. It will make you sweat with fury and you will write letters demanding my immediate cashiering in the RT car park.


Don’t expect this, do you? Not the right place for fetid vulgarity, is it, this column? Which is why, of course, I am kidding. Sort of. This little playground, as I am sure you realise after all of these years, is fragrant with lavender, a land where we crochet holders for our coffee mugs.

There’s no putrid smut here. My point is that muck has its place. As much as you don’t expect to read gags about ** sex and ** sex here, I don’t expect to hear gags about ** sex and ** sex on BBC1 at 9:30pm on Fridays. In Live at the Apollo.

And did I say it’s on BBC1, the flagship channel, the home of all that is clean and decent in our publicly-funded national broadcaster.

Yes, I have turned into one of those people who says things like, “I don’t pay my licence fee to hear smut in my living room.” Which is a shame, because I can’t stand those people.

But I cannot fathom Live at the Apollo, a weekly stand-up show that has slipped into a mire of really icky jokes in its recent and current series.

Let me say straight away that I have no problem at all with filthy humour. Not a jot. I love The Thick of It, I love Peep Show, I love Russell Howard’s Good News. But they aren’t on BBC1. At 9:30pm on Fridays.

There are places for humour that pushes and crosses every boundary – BBC3, C4 – and that is as it should be. Humour should be bold and controversial and so outrageous it should make you wince (just watch anything by Chris Morris and Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror on C4 this Sunday to see what I’m talking about).

But one of these places is not – and I will say this again because it bears repeating – on BBC1. At 9:30pm on Fridays. Watching Live at the Apollo can often be like watching a beloved uncle exposing himself at a family gathering.

It’s just NOT RIGHT to hear – in the last series – a routine from Stewart Francis about a wedding ring lost in a certain part of a prostitute’s anatomy. Or, this series, Lee Nelson, alter ego of comedian Simon Brodkin, speculating on how his wife could have become pregnant (with its epically offensive punchline).

Or Andy Parsons joking about “teabagging” (nothing to do with PG Tips). Or Jason Byrne acting out a long visual gag about sex with his wife. It’s like something you might stumble across on Dave.

At this time of night BBC1 should be a refuge, a place where you can go to get away from the crunchingly coarse. I’m still old-fashioned enough to think that BBC1 is a bastion of good manners (well, some of the time, I tend to give it a lot of leeway), a bulwark against the horrible.

Yes, I know Jonathan Ross was on BBC1 and he was mucky but that was, I would argue, different: in the hinterland of 10:45pm where adults can get up to mischief.

There’s something satisfyingly cauterising about well-honed filth. But if it’s in the wrong place it is uncomfortable and joyless.


This is an edited version of an article from the issue of Radio Times magazine that went on sale 1 December 2011.