PAUL BRACCHI: How much did former BBC boss know about Russell Brand?

PAUL BRACCHI: A litany of sleazy behaviour that begs the question – How much did the former BBC boss really know about Russell Brand?

Former BBC director-general Sir Mark Thompson — he was knighted in the King’s birthday honours in June — has enjoyed a glittering career in the U.S.

He left the corporation in 2012 to become chief executive of the New York Times and earlier this month was chosen to lead media giant CNN into the next presidential election. ‘There isn’t a more experienced, respected or capable executive in the news business today,’ declared the announcement confirming his appointment.

Thompson, who lives in an apartment in Manhattan’s Upper West Side, one of the wealthiest enclaves of the city, has been hailed as the cable channel’s ‘white knight’, following poor ratings and low staff morale under his predecessor.

His salary has not yet been made public but while at the New York Times, some years his total package soared as high as $6.1 million (nearly £5 million).

The fallout from the Russell Brand scandal, though, is in danger of spoiling his American dream.

Former BBC director-general Sir Mark Thompson has enjoyed a glittering career in the US as chief executive of the New York Times and is soon to take the reins at CNN

Thompson was director-general throughout Russell Brand’s (pictured) career at the BBC — both when Brand joined in 2006 and when he left in disgrace in 2008 in the aftermath of Sachsgate

All but forgotten in the frenetic stream of accusations over the past week is that Thompson was director-general throughout Brand’s career at the BBC — both when Brand joined in 2006 and was touted ‘as the future of radio’ and when he left in disgrace in 2008 in the aftermath of Sachsgate.


By then Brand, specialising in crude, highly sexualised material, had gone from fringe performer to mainstream star courtesy of the taxpayer.

A month after Sachsgate — in which the ‘comedian’ and Jonathan Ross left offensive messages for Andrew Sachs tormenting the late Fawlty Towers actor over Brand’s brief fling with his granddaughter — Thompson was summoned before the Commons culture, media and sport select committee to explain how such a ‘prank call’ could have been broadcast to the nation on Brand’s Radio 2 show.

Thompson’s response — that there were no red flags — seems risible today. ‘I do not think you can go back, as it were, through the audit trail and say, even of this programme, that it was obvious that it was an accident waiting to happen,’ he explained to the committee.

A spokesman for CNN, when contacted this week, stressed that the former director-general had taken immediate, decisive action in the wake of the Sachsgate furore which had resulted in Brand leaving the BBC, adding: ‘Like everyone else Mark is horrified by the alleged behaviour of Russell Brand that has recently come to light.’

Mark Thompson was a popular and successful director-general. But his testimony before the Commons committee back in 2008 is utterly at odds with the claims — too many to dismiss — that, contrary to what he said, Brand’s conduct in the Radio 2 studio had caused concern and bosses were aware of this.

How could they not have been? Some of the incidents were played out on air, just like Sachsgate, including comments about newsreader Andrea Simmons, whom Brand described as ‘erotic’ and a ‘sex bomb’, telling listeners: ‘We’re going to get under that desk and we’re going to unleash all hell on your thighs.’

So much for the ‘good evidence of tight compliance procedures’ on the show that Thompson referred to when he was grilled by the Commons committee.

Russell Brand takes part in a discussion at Esquire Townhouse, Carlton House Terrace on October 14, 2017

Sachsgate saw Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross leave offensive voice messages for Andrew Sachs – tormenting the late Fawlty Towers actor over Brand’s brief fling with his granddaughter


Either way, his statement is bound to come under scrutiny in the review, ordered by current director-general Tim Davie last week, of 48-year-old Brand’s time with the corporation.

Brand, now married to Laura (nee) Gallacher, sister of ex-Sky sports presenter Kirsty, and a father of three, had reportedly exposed himself to Radio 2 staff, slept with competition winners and assaulted women, including a 16-year-old who, it is alleged, was picked up from class by a BBC chauffeur for sex with the presenter, who was then 30.

It was an era, pre-#MeToo and social media, of lads’ mags and ‘kiss-and-tell’. Essex-born Brand was voted ‘S****** of the Year’ by the Sun newspaper, which said he had slept with 1,000 women.

Yes, times have changed but this should not excuse the culture of sycophancy that surrounded him at the BBC, where the word ‘no’ seems never to have been uttered. It was epitomised by the fact that his own company, Vanity Projects (an apt name for a narcissist), was allowed to produce his late-night Radio 2 Saturday show, which culminated in Sachsgate. ‘The grown-ups had left the room,’ one TV source told us.

Radio 2 controller Lesley Douglas sanctioned the broadcast of the Andrew Sachs incident with a single-word email of ‘yes’ sent from her BlackBerry. 

The revelation highlights the degree of power Brand wielded at the corporation on Mark Thompson’s watch, where even senior staff seemed mesmerised by him.

Thompson praised Brand’s Radio 2 show during his Commons appearance. ‘The programme has been running for two years and won a Sony Gold Award because of its quality and had proceeded for a long time without any issues, so literally, if you just look at the Russell Brand Show, although, my goodness me, it has got some quite edgy material in it, the compliance procedures seem to be working.’

Yet Brand’s reputation was an open secret on Radio 2.

Veteran DJ Liz Kershaw went to see Thompson personally in 2007 over competition winners being faked during Brand’s stint on 6 Music.

Georgina Baillie has since gone on record to say she supports under-fire presenter Russell Brand

The following year the BBC was fined £17,500 over the breach. ‘It should have been a red flag for Mark Thompson that things were going on in BBC Radio,’ she told the Mail.

Brand says the allegations against him, which he vehemently denies, are the product of a ‘mainstream media conspiracy’ — ironic in the circumstances.

They are now being investigated by a police unit set up after the Jimmy Savile scandal.

Even if all the allegations against Brand turn out to be unfounded, there was enough evidence about his sleazy lifestyle to have made him unemployable at the BBC.

Indeed, many of these incidents are gleefully chronicled in his first autobiography, My Booky Wook, published in 2007.

Brand joined the broadcaster in April 2006, when he was given a regular Sunday morning slot on 6 Music. In only a matter of months his show was moved to Radio 2.

The woman who brought him to the station was Radio 2 controller Lesley Douglas, who had an almost ‘obsessive commitment’ to him, according to fellow DJ Paul Gambaccini, something she vehemently denies.

‘Ms Douglas did not at any time encourage, enable and/or fail herself to take any adequate steps within her power with regard to the conduct of Mr Brand of which she was aware,’ a statement from her lawyers said.

But Russell Brand believed otherwise. In his second autobiography Booky Wook 2, which went on sale in 2010, there are frequent references to ‘beloved Lesley’, whom, he wrote, ‘has nurtured, nourished and indulged me as any good woman should’ . . . ‘Lesley loved me and gave me lots of room — so I took that room’ . . . ‘I was indulged like the world’s naughtiest schoolboy’.

Douglas left the BBC after Sachsgate, which resulted in a £150,000 Ofcom fine in April 2009. ‘The presenter’s interests had been given greater priority than the BBC’s responsibility to avoid unwarranted infringements of privacy and minimise the risk of harm and offence and to maintain generally accepted standards,’ the Ofcom report concluded.

A string of flaws identified in the BBC’s compliance systems included a ‘lack of clarity’ as to who at the BBC had editorial oversight of the show.

The report appears to contradict a key part of Mark Thompson’s testimony to the Commons four months earlier, that there were ‘tight compliance procedures’.

It remains to be seen whether the new review looking into complaints about Brand during his time at the BBC — which the current director-general Tim Davie has said will take place as ‘swiftly as posssible’ with results in weeks — agrees with Sir Mark’s assessment.

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