Great gaffes from British radio history

As Jazz FM apologise for accidentally broadcasting porn, we look at other notorious happenings from wireless history

Digital radio station Jazz FM’s bosses were left red-faced this morning after reports emerged that the station had unwittingly broadcast part of the soundtrack from a gay porn film over the weekend.


Listeners tuning in for Saturday night’s Funky Sensation programme were said to have been shocked when the music got an unplanned accompaniment of ecstatic moans and groans, for which the station’s head of programming apologised, blaming “unauthorised activity and inappropriate behaviour in the studio.”

But regrettable as the incident might have been, it’s just the latest in a long line of gaffes, blunders and boobs to have come from the world of radio. Indeed, as long as there’s been broadcasting in Britain, presenters and guests alike have regularly said the wrong thing, turned up drunk or, to use a favourite tabloid cliché, turned the airwaves blue.

So, to take some of the heat off the randy jazz station, here are some of British radio’s most famous controversies…

“The fleet’s lit up!”

In 1937 naval officer and radio broadcaster Thomas Woodrooffe was charged with describing the Coronation Fleet Review on the BBC, but met up with friends for a bevvy or four before his broadcast. Sure enough, before you could hum the first bars of “What shall we do with a drunken sailor” he was on air and raving incoherently, at one point uttering: “At the present moment, the whole fleet is lit up. When I say ‘lit up’, I mean lit up by fairy lamps”, a phrase that has gone down in history. Despite a week’s suspension by the Beeb, Woodrooffe carried on broadcasting after the blunder.

Nazi business

PG Wodehouse, author of the beloved Jeeves and Wooster novels, was almost prosecuted as a traitor after he made a series of radio programmes for the Germans during the Second World War. Wodehouse, who was living in France at the time, had been held as an alien in a German prison camp before he was approached by a Nazi propaganda official about producing a series of light-hearted radio talks about his experience of being captured. The writer agreed and gave five addresses from Berlin in 1941, which led to his condemnation in Parliament, his work being banned by the BBC, and the removal of his books from British library shelves. It was only years later that he realised “what a hideous mistake I had made.”

“Stuff you, I won’t do what you tell me…”

US hard rock band Rage Against the Machine have caused the BBC no end of embarrassment with their song Killing in the Name, the sweary tune famous for keeping Joe McElderry off the Christmas number one spot in 2009. Not only did Radio 5 get its knuckles rapped after broadcasting the song in full at breakfast time in December 2009, but DJ Bruno Brookes (pictured), who unwittingly played the uncensored tune as part of the Sunday-afternoon chart rundown in 1993, is to this day still dogged by the controversy he caused.

Champagne Supernova

Noel and Liam Gallagher of Oasis, two men arguably not temperamentally suited to address the nation, caused uproar in 1997 when they turned up drunk to record an interview with Steve Lamacq on Radio 1, during which they swore profusely, unleashed a torrent of abuse at the Rolling Stones and proclaimed “drugs do work.” After the interview was picked up by the press the following day, the band were threatened with an airtime ban from the station.


Politicians and the public condemned Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand after a pre-recorded show was broadcast in October 2008 that featured the pair leaving an offensive phone message on actor Andrew Sachs’s answerphone.  Brand quit his BBC Radio 2 show and Jonathan Ross was suspended from broadcasting after the event, which also led to several high-profile resignations among Radio 2 management.

Sarah Kennedy

As well as famously slurring her speech on air and calling Radio 2 colleague Ken Bruce “an old fool”, Sarah Kennedy attracted a fair wodge of adverse attention in 2007 when she said that she’d almost run a black man over because she couldn’t see him in the dark. “It’s lucky he opened his mouth to yawn or do something and I saw him,” she said on air, prompting the BBC to issue a public apology.

Playing with Fire

Dappy, the beanie-sporting former N-Dubz rapper, was at the centre of a row in 2010 after he’d appeared on the Chris Moyles show. During the course of the programme, a female listener texted in and called Dappy “a little boy with a silly hat”, a remark he took offence at. After the woman started receiving SMS death threats the following day, the messages were traced back to Dappy, who’d copied her phone number while in the studio. As well as public condemnation, Dappy was criticised by Moyles himself. “I feel let down by him. For him to go and do something like that is a bit rubbish,” said the DJ.

The C Word

Surely no one could forget Radio 4 presenter James Naughtie’s December 2010 slip, which resulted in him mispronouncing the surname of culture secretary Jeremy Hunt (pictured) as…well, an Anglo-Saxon term that sounds very similar.  Staggeringly, Andrew Marr repeated the blunder on Radio 4 later that same day in a discussion about the incident.


So after all the racism, bullying and foul language that has gone before, does Jazz FM’s porn blunder seem quite so bad? Let us know what you think in the comments below.