Russell Brand - risque stand-up comic, television personality and Radio Two presenter.
Jonathan Ross - naughty/near-the-knuckle television personality and chat-show host.
Andrew Sachs - actor most famous for his portrayal of Manuel in Fawlty Towers.
Georgina Baillie - Andrew Sachs's 23-year-old grand-daughter.
The Daily Mail, an alleged newspaper.
The scene: A little less than a fortnight ago, Russell Brand is recording his Radio Two programme, which is to be broadcast on Saturday. In the studio with him is Jonathan Ross, who I understand was pushing his new book.
As part of the show, Brand is to do a phone interview with Andrew Sachs, but for some reason Andrew Sachs isn't at home and all they get is the answering machine. So they decide to interview the answering machine, which quickly degenerates into some extremely smutty banter about Brand having slept with Georgina Baillie, after which things get somewhat out of control.
The show goes out on Saturday night. It's my understanding that there are two complaints.
Eight days later, the Mail On Sunday makes it front-page news. The Mail loves to present itself as the guardian of the morals of Middle England, and if they can combine that with giving the BBC a good kicking it's a well-nigh perfect story as far as they're concerned. Other papers pick the story up, then the broadcast media, then it all goes like this.
As I sit writing this, there have been 27,000 complaints about the broadcast, Ross and Brand have been suspended pending an inquiry, Brand has resigned from the BBC, and there is almost as much comment, speculation and column-inchage in the papers as there was about the financial crisis (last week's story) and more than there is about the US Presidential elections (next week's story.)
Now then. *rolls up sleeves* It seems to me that there are more things going on here than simple outrage about two overgrown schoolboys being offensive.
Firstly, as I said, I understand the show only received two complaints when it was broadcast. The rest of the complaints have come in since the print media started whipping the story up. At a guess, I'd say some of those were from people who heard the show and were upset by what they heard but decided not to complain - and then, when they realised others were complaining, changed their minds.
Other complaints, I'd guess, came from people who just hate the BBC because it doesn't do what they want it to do; they didn't hear the show, but now they've read about it they realise it's just another example of what's wrong with the BBC and it needs to be complained about.
Still more complaints, I'd guess, came from people who hate Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand and resent the large salaries they earn. It's rare to see an article - even before all this kicked off - without it mentioning Ross's BBC salary. Which is large beyond even my dreams of avarice.
Over the past three days I've watched a kind of collective hysteria afflict the media. I don't know why this has happened - I had thought they'd got the BBC out of their systems after the last comprehensive kicking they gave it. Both Gordon Brown and David Cameron have commented on it, as has pretty much the entire stable of MP rentaquotes from all shades of political opinion. I don't believe anyone has yet asked the Reverend Ian Paisley his opinion, but it's only a matter of time. One imbecile MP - whose name I didn't catch and in which I'm not interested - demanded that the Director-General of the BBC resign over this. This from a member of a political class whose leaders cling onto power no matter how corrupt and venal their subordinates are.
I can only think that the events of the past few weeks have served to magnify this thing. The economies of the world have looked into the abyss, banks have collapsed, people have seen the value of their homes slump, people have lost their jobs. And here are these overgrown millionaire schoolboys, working for this snooty liberal elitist organisation, making disgusting comments about a fondly-regarded actor and rather sweet man. People have been looking for someone to vent their anger on - not to hate, the way they hate Gordon and Alastair and Bush and the big banks, but to do something tangible to someone wealthy.
Ask yourselves: if a poorly-paid and obscure presenter on Channel Five had done this, would we be having this conversation?