As James Corden’s alter ego Smithy so memorably reminded us, you’re missing the point if you watch Comic Relief without picking up the phone. And more than 2,000 viewers did just that following Rowan Atkinson’s contribution to the big night last Friday – to complain about the content of a sketch in which the Blackadder star appeared as a fictional new Archbishop of Canterbury.
The monologue, which was broadcast on BBC1 before the watershed at 7.45pm, was the subject of 2,133 complaints to the BBC – making up the bulk of the 2,819 complaints received about the show overall.
Ofcom additionally received 400 complaints about Comic Relief: Funny for Money, which was on air for just under eight hours and raised a record £75m for good causes in Britain and Africa, with a peak viewing audience of 12.2m.
The Atkinson sketch featured his Archbishop of Canterbury character – or “Arch” as he styled himself – underlining that he was not gay, using the phrase “arsing about” and the word “shagging”, and comparing One Direction to Jesus’ disciples.
The skit was pre-recorded on a studio set but was played out to the live audience at BBC Television Centre, who audibly gasped at the line: “Keep on praying – it doesn’t work, but it’s a good part of a getting-to-sleep routine if you’ve got insomnia.”
The BBC has not included the sketch in its iPlayer compilation of Comic Relief highlights, and has issued this statement: “Comic Relief night features seven hours of live television and is known for pushing at the boundaries of comedy alongside heartfelt appeal films.
“It is made for a varied and wide-ranging audience, so getting the language, tone and content of the evening is extremely important to us… to any viewers we may have offended, we apologise.
“Rowan is well known for his comedy characters and this was an affectionate portrayal of an Archbishop figure, which was intended to amuse and entertain. We did not mean to cause any offence.”
There is of course a new Archbishop of Canterbury in real life: Justin Welby, who is to be enthroned this Thursday at Canterbury Cathedral.
The full text of the Atkinson routine was as follows:
It’s very delightful and apt that as your new Archbishop of Canterbury – hello! – I should be able to talk to you on the occasion of Children in Need, or Red Nose Day as some of the younger people amongst us – hello to you too! – like to say.
When I was a young man – and may I stress a young heterosexual man with quite a few girlfriends, but no tongues obviously, teenagers beware! – charity was much less fun that it is now. However, behind the fun, or arsing about, as I like to call it, ha ha ha! – God doesn’t mind swearing, you know – there was a more serious message. And it’s my job as your new “Arch” – call me what you like, it’s not about titles, is it? – to remind you of the spiritual dimension of a night like this.
Jesus said love your neighbour – and let’s be perfectly clear, because there’s a lot of misunderstanding about this, he doesn’t mean shag your neighbour. He hates that. Absolutely hates it. Though as I say, he doesn’t mind the word shagging, he’s got a terrific sense of humour. He doesn’t like the f-word that describes the same thing. He thinks that’s very rude.
But anyway, Jesus said love your neighbour as yourself. And so when you give money to Children’s Nose Day, you’re actually loving your neighbour – and that’s brilliant.
So in a way, even though what you think you’re doing is watching One Direction singing their fabulous new sound – I love One Direction and so does Jesus, they remind him of the disciples – what you’re actually watching is Christianity in action, and that’s my message. If you love the Lord, please donate tonight.
If you love the Dark Lord, you – ha ha ha ha! – you’ve been reading too many Harry Potter books! You see, I’m terrifically up-to-date and humorous. I think they should make a movie of those books, it’d be brilliant. Possibly Simon Cowell as Snape. But what do I know? I’m an Archbishop of Canterbury, not a movie director.
Anyway, I hope I’ll be able to talk to you more often like this but for now, from all of us in the good old C of E, have a wonderful night, keep on giving, keep on laughing, keep on praying – it doesn’t work, but it’s a good part of a getting-to-sleep routine if you’ve got insomnia.
Happy Easter by the way. Coming soon! Big day. Lots of chocolate, lots of rabbits, one rip-roaring resurrection. Almost as much fun as Children’s Comic Relief In Need Nose Day, I think. Thank you. Good night.