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Frankie Boyle is back on the box – but how far has the BBC tamed him?

The comedian returns to our screens with his first series since 2010. Will he be on his best behaviour for BBC2?

Published: Thursday, 8th June 2017 at 9:00 pm

When the general election polls close on the night of 8th June, the nation will be waiting with bated breath to find out which party has triumphed. But whether or not there’s a bombshell in store for Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn et al, we are guaranteed fireworks of a different kind on BBC2: Frankie Boyle will be back.


Frankie Boyle’s New World Order is a four-part series that, according to the BBC, will see the acerbic Scottish comedian hosting a “weekly lively discussion” dissecting the week’s talking points and “examining the wider political and cultural agendas that are shaping our fast-changing world”.

Comedians Sara Pascoe and Katherine Ryan will join him in what is being billed as an “informed, provocative and debate-fuelled review” with other guests invited on to argue with Boyle’s “outspoken views”.

They’re not wrong about the outspoken bit. Bar regular appearances on Mock the Week, Boyle hasn’t had his own TV series for a good seven years now, thanks in part to his habit of shocking and appalling millions of people. His last major show was Frankie Boyle’s Tramadol Nights for Channel 4 in 2010, a mix of stand-up, sketches and frank exchanges with the audience that is now mainly remembered for offensive comments he made about Katie Price’s disabled son, which broadcasting regulator Ofcom ruled “had considerable potential to be highly offensive” and were in breach of the broadcasting code.

Channel 4 stood by him, but the dam burst following a series of jokes about Paralympic athletes on Twitter in August 2012. At the time, Channel 4 was the exclusive TV broadcaster of the Paralympics, and bosses felt Boyle had finally overstepped the mark and potentially damaged their brand.

Tramadol Nights was not recommissioned and a pilot show called Frankie Boyle’s Rehabilitation Programme was dropped. But Boyle still had his defenders, including then Channel 4 head of comedy Shane Allen, who is now comedy controller at the BBC.

He’s long been trying to get Boyle back on the BBC, so far giving him various low-key iPlayer projects and three Autopsy shows, one dissecting the 2015 general election, one following the EU referendum and one responding to the US presidential election.

Neither Boyle nor Allen were available to talk to RT – an indication perhaps of shared nervousness before his show airs. But BBC2 editor Patrick Holland says, “The thing with Frankie is he is an extraordinarily strong and passionate voice and he has the ability to explore some of the issues of the day in a way that will be challenging viewing. Voices like Frankie’s are important. If we are going to make BBC2 feel more contemporary, more relevant, we need to look at the issues of the day and Frankie is someone who does that.”

As for curbing Boyle’s capacity to offend and attract negative headlines, Holland added: “If you’re on the BBC, there are BBC guidelines and the producers of the show know about that. Frankie is keen to be back on BBC2.”

Boyle’s keenness to return to mainstream TV was demonstrated with an appearance in the host’s chair on Have I Got News for You last month. In preparation, he fronted a one-off stand-up night at London’s Soho Theatre to try out some gags – many of which he used – but which also felt like preparation for New World Order.

Sitting in the audience, it was clear that however keen he may be to get back on the BBC, the edgier Boyle has not gone away. He told a joke about Brexit and the distrust shown towards experts and the punchline was “my therapist said I’d never rape again”.

The US election and the choice between Hillary and Donald was, he said, “like watching the Elephant Man decide which way to part his hair”.

None of these gags made it on to HIGNFY, so how much of the real, gritty Boyle will there be on New World Order? All the BBC will confirm is that it will be pre-recorded, so one imagines armies of technicians ready with the bleeper button. But a balance has to be found somehow – because a tame Frankie is not really Frankie at all.


Frankie Boyle’s New World Order is on Thursday 8th June at 10:35pm on BBC2


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