Lee defends Springer opera TV broadcast

Liz Thomas

Jerry Springer – The Opera co-creator Stewart Lee has defended the show after critics complaining of bad language, blasphemy and indecency wrote to BBC chairman Michael Grade over the Corporation’s decision to air the controversial production.

The move to broadcast the award-winning musical uncut on BBC2 on Saturday night prompted television clean-up campaigners such as Mediawatch-uk – the organisation founded by Mary Whitehouse – and religious groups to write to Grade, accusing the Corporation of flouting industry guidelines tackling taste and decency.

Lee has hit back, arguing that many of the stories circulated by such groups, suggesting that the show depicts the characters of Jesus, Mary and God as self-centred sexual deviants who give and receive extreme verbal abuse and a series of blasphemies in the name of comedy, bore no relation to the actual content of the show.

The comedian, who is currently in Germany working on a new show, said: “I am pleased I won’t be around to have to talk about it to people who haven’t seen it but are nonetheless furious about it.

“Neither Mary, God nor Jesus are represented as self-centred sexual deviants. Both God and Mary are represented with the utmost respect, as is their holy due. No-one involved in the creative team of the stage production has ever said that it is a deliberate attack on good taste.

“We think the show is in very good taste and has a positive agenda. I think Peter Orton did a brilliant job of filming the show and the edit looked great. I hope it can just be enjoyed for what it is.”

He added that the amount of swearing suggested by some national newspapers would render the two hour performance impossible. A spokesperson for the BBC agreed that estimates that the show contained more than 8,000 expletives were grossly inaccurate.

She said: “BBC2 has a long tradition of presenting challenging work from the worlds of art and culture. Jerry Springer – The Opera is a serious work that explores difficult ideas with a strong underlying moral purpose. Like all good satire, it sometimes takes its points to the edge, using strong language and imagery which may not be to everyone’s taste.

“However, we can reassure all those concerned that it will transmit well after the watershed with due warnings and preceded with a documentary which seeks to give background and context to the piece.”

John Beyer of Mediawatch said the show was not what licence fee payers expected of the BBC and that he did not understand why the Corporation had chosen this particular production if it wished to enhance coverage of the arts.

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