AN astonishingly frank interview on BBC Radio Five Live today shedding new light on the Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross saga.
Radio Two presenter Paul Gambacinni revealed the inside story behind the resignation of network controller Lesley Douglas.
He told how Brand had sacked several producers and was a time bomb waiting to go off.
The veteran broadcaster also predicted that the official inquiry would find “about a dozen items that will make their hair curl on end”.
Like many people, I’m greatly saddened that Manchester University graduate Lesley felt she had to resign from the job she loved.
It appears she wasn’t directly involved but did the honourable thing to protect members of her Radio Two team.
But this is outspoken Gambaccini’s take on what happened – and it makes fascinating reading.
Below is a full transcript of what he told Breakfast presenter Nicky Campbell this morning:
Nicky Campbell: “Russell Brand went through a number of producers, didn’t he?”
Paul Gambacinni: “He did indeed. This tragedy, which is Greek in its dimensions has claimed a victim who was, in radio terms, of the scale of Achillees – Achillees, a great warrior, a great hero, brought low by his heel. Lesley Douglas, one of the most loved, respected, admired – pile on the favourable adjectives – executives in broadcasting, brought low by…Russell Brand? And that is because Lesley had a commitment to Russell which was almost obsessive. That is to say, she believed that his hire was a good move for Radio Two and she stood by him thick and thin, even while he was alienating almost everybody else in the building.”
NC: “How did he alienate almost everybody else in the building? By demanding producers were sacked and so forth?”
PG: “Oh yes, indeed. You know, I’m amazed that all of the media who have been investigating this story have done such a terrible job. They haven’t done investigative journalism. The thing to do is to talk to the people who are there. Nicky, if you look through the glass, you will see, probably, a technical operator. He sees all, hears all, he knows all. The people who worked on those Russell Brand programmes are the people who know everything and I haven’t seen them sought out by any member of the media.”
NC: “I hear he had five or six producers and whenever one said no to him, he went and got him or her sacked?”
PG: “You heard accurately. And I do believe that if anyone had investigated this matter properly and as now Ofcom and the BBC will, they will find about a dozen items that will make their hair curl on end. I’m not kidding you.”
NC: “Such as. Give us a clue?”
PG: “Well, I would suggest (nervous laughter) that you investigate an episode that happened within the first two months of his being on air. The result of this was to gut the so-called chain of command. The media have been following the wrong subject here. They’ve been saying, ‘Who’s responsible for this? Who’s responsible?’ In fact, he succeeded in becoming an independent production, where everybody was answerable only to himself, the chain of command had been reduced to two people – Russell and Lesley. And, therefore, if anybody had to go, and I’m not saying that I advocated anybody going, but if anybody had to go, it could only be Lesley. This is the dilemma.
“And this is what happens when you airlift television presenters into radio. Now I have to say this is another concept which has not yet been addressed. If you look at that web video of Jonathan and Russell, which so many thousands of people have seen, you will notice something intriguing – they’re standing up. They’re not at a desk. Neither of them ever learned how to operate the board, that is our console in which we run the desk, which looks like we’re pilots flying an aeroplane. If you don’t do that, you are physically removed from the contents of your programme and you are obsessed on your own performance.
“Many of the people who have been part of this casting call in the past decade, and incidentally it has gone to Radio One, 6Music, Capital Radio, commercial radio, I’m not just saying it’s Radio Two, but in the popular broadcasting sphere there has been this crazy, crazy belief that radio broadcasting does not require years of training or special skills, that anybody who’s famous can do it. And you put them in a studio and they’re going to be good. Well, in fact, they’re not good. And I tell you one other thing, the listenership is higher for radio broadcasters than it is for these people. Who is the most listened to radio personality on Radio Two in terms of share? No listener to this programme will guess – it’s Brian Matthew. Yes, that’s right, Brian Matthew, eight to ten Saturday morning, highest share of any Radio Two programme of the week. The minute Jonathan Ross comes on, a third of a million people tune out.”
NC: “Back to Lesley. She’s a great woman, I love her dearly. I’ve shared many a bottle of wine with her and she’s a fantastic person and she knows a heck of a lot about radio. But you’ve identified this kind of fatal attraction and this link to Russell Brand. She kind of lost her grip on Russell?”
PG: “She believed that it was part of her job to expand the perimeter of the tent. Radio Two’s a big tent. And that Russell was an important symbol…”
NC: “But she let him get away with far too much, that’s basically it, isn’t it?”
PG: “There’s no question about it. You know, I can try and be evasive and clever and come up with euphemisms, but the fact is that he was her pet and she let him get away with so many outrageous things. And I have to say, you know that in this profession, we never disparage a colleague. It’s an unwritten rule. But when his hire was announced, I sent an email of protest to her, the only one I’ve ever sent in my entire career. I knew this would end in tears, because it could only end in tears. When you pick up a time bomb, one day it will explode because that’s what time bombs do.”
NC: “What was the thrust of your message to Lesley in that email? You’ve told us basically, but what was your top line, as they say?
PG: “I’m afraid that I used a word that I could not repeat on this programme. I just thought that he did not have the talent for Radio Two. I’m sorry, I did not. And I believe I’ve been shown to be right. His talent, though it is appealing to millions of people, was not appropriate for this network.”
NC: “OK, Lesley Douglas has to be replaced. It probably won’t mean a lot to people, they just turn on the radio and they get the people that they like on the radio playing the records that they enjoy. But what does Radio 2 now need at the top? Maybe somebody like Bob Shennan, who’s a former Controller of Five Live, who knows about compliance, who knows about news and current affairs…”
PG: “And is free since the collapse of 4Digital. Yes, he is a safe pair of hands and he’s also an admired figure. But, you know, we are talent, they are management. What they’re going to do is beyond me. But there are people who you could be happy with. Any of us could be brought down, not by what we do every day but by our greatest defect and I’m sorry that Lesley had that one defect.
“Now in terms of what’s going to happen on air from now on, I’ve been amused that everybody from Mark Thompson on down talks about presenters as if they are idiots, who are not expected to have judgement about the content of their programme. And that it is producers who are responsible for holding them on a leash. Are we some kind of freaks? I don’t think that the people who are entrusted with the microphone should be people you would consider to be freaks. Everything we ever say on the radio will be remembered by somebody, somewhere. We have an awesome responsibility. And to put that responsibility in the hands of people who only consider radio to be a link in the chain of their career, rather than the touchstone, is very, very dangerous.”