BBC Radio 4 show Don’t Make Me Laugh has been sanctioned by Ofcom for a joke about the Queen’s vulva which was broadcast on her birthday.
The edition of the show, which aired in April this year, featured a panel of comedians who are given a subject which they have to prove is not funny. If the audience does laugh, the subject passes to the next contestant.
Panellist Russell Kane was asked to explain why there was nothing funny about why the Queen, who has four children, must have had sex at least four times in her life.
“Four times we have to think of republicanism as we imagine four children emerging from Her Majesty’s vulva,” said Kane to audience laughter.
Ofcom received 12 complaints about the episode broadcast on 21 April 2016, with a large proportion of the complainants objecting to the fact that this was also aired on the monarch’s birthday. The BBC received 120 complaints soon after the transmission.
In mitigation, the BBC said that the time slot of this particular series had been moved from its original scheduled time of 11pm to 6.30pm and had been put on a “risk” list for that reason.
The BBC added that its Editor for Editorial Standards had listened to “a rough-cut of the programme during the production process” and considered that the segment about the Queen “did not raise any issues in terms of editorial standards and did not consider that this particular sequence needed amending”.
The broadcaster asserted that at this point the date for transmission of the programme was not known.
However a compliance form filled out by the production team did not alert the BBC to the material about the Queen, and the BBC said that if the compliance form had “contained information alerting the station to the reference to the Queen” the content would have been reassessed.
Following the broadcast the BBC said it had cancelled the scheduled repeat broadcast, removed the programme from BBC iPlayer, moved the remainder of the series back to its original 11pm slot, apologised to Buckingham Palace, and published an apology on the Corrections and Clarification page of its website the next day.
A statement said: “While BBC Radio 4 comedy is a broad church and often pushes boundaries, we would like to apologise for this broadcast of Don’t Make Me Laugh. We never intended for the scheduling of the programme to coincide with the Queen’s birthday and are sorry for the offence caused by its timing and content”.
The BBC also reminded the Executive Producer “of his responsibilities in terms of the compliance form”, and said it planned to introduce a new and updated compliance form to help ensure such a mistake did not happen again.
In its ruling that the programme breached its rules on offensive material, Ofcom said: “In Ofcom’s view… it is likely that Radio 4 listeners would not have expected comedic content about the Queen of this strength and directness to be included in a Radio 4 comedy programme broadcast in the early evening on her 90th birthday.
“We considered also that, for all these reasons, any listeners who had come across this content unawares may well have been surprised and disconcerted to hear it .”
Radio 4 has since decided not to recommission Don’t Make Me Laugh, which is hosted by David Baddiel, for a new series. But sources have suggested that this was not because of the controversial broadcast.