Derren Brown show broke Ofcom rules on dangerous behaviour

The regulator says that a section of the programme Something Wicked This Way Comes, broadcast before the watershed, could be imitated by children

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Illusionist Derren Brown broke Ofcom rules in a section of a stage show broadcast on TV in which he suffocated himself to show how he could withstand pain.

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In the programme Derren Brown: Something Wicked This Way Comes, which was shown on Watch at 9.10am in the morning in December last year, the illusionist told the audience that by restricting the air supply to the brain a human being would not bleed when cut and would have the ability to withstand “massive amounts of pain”.

He then placed a transparent plastic bag over his head and sealed it while a member of the audience tapped out his pulse rate on a drum. The pulse rate gradually reduced until it stopped. He then removed the bag from his head, removed his shoes and socks, and slowly walked over to a path of broken glass on the stage, appearing to be in a state of semi-consciousness.

There were close up shots of Brown’s feet as he walked over the glass, interspersed with his reactions and those of audience members. Once he had finished the challenge, the camera zoomed in on his feet to show that they had not bled as a result of contact with the glass.

Ofcom received five complaints from viewers about the 14-minute sequence which was based on footage from Brown’s 2006 stage show of the same name.

UKTV confirmed that the programme was broadcast before the watershed in error and acknowledged that the programme was unsuitable for a pre-watershed transmission.

Ofcom ruled that the programme breached Rule 1.13 of the broadcasting code which states that dangerous behaviour that is likely to be easily imitated by children in a manner that is harmful must not be broadcast before the watershed unless there is editorial justification.

The regulator said: “In this programme, Derren Brown advised the audience that cutting off the air supply to the brain would prevent bleeding and substantially reduce the experience of pain. He then proceeded to asphyxiate himself by placing a clear plastic bag over his head, sealing it and restricting the supply of oxygen to his brain. In Ofcom’s view, this was clearly dangerous behaviour.

“Plastic bags are a common household item that children frequently have access to without parental supervision. They also present a widely acknowledged risk of harm to young children. Therefore, Ofcom took the view that Derren Brown’s use of a plastic bag to asphyxiate himself was likely to be easily imitable by children in a manner that was harmful. This was particularly because self-asphyxiation was presented as a way to carry out acts which would not normally be possible because of the bleeding and pain that resulted. Further in this programme no negative consequences of self-asphyxiation were identified.”

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The regulator also admonished the programme for broadcasting the F-word, which Brown muttered under his breath during the stunt and which breached its rules on offensive language.