Michael Gove and Harvey Weinstein: No Laughing Matter at the BBC

Michael Gove and Harvey Weinstein:
No Laughing Matter at the BBC

Sean Gabb
27th October 2017

Every so often, I promise myself never to go on the broadcast media again. I think this is a promise I should now think of keeping.

Earlier today, the 27th October 2017, the Conservative politician Michael Gove compared being interviewed by John Humphreys to being taken into Harvey Weinstein’s bedroom. Everyone laughed until some radio presenter called Shelagh Fogarty set off a virtue spiral with claims that the joke “trivialised” victims of sexual assault. The ritual condemnations rolled in at once, and Mr Gove apologised.

Probably because no one else was willing, I was begged to go on BBC Radio 5 this evening and discuss the matter with Miss Fogarty on the Stephen Nolan Show. I finally agreed.

The points I made were these:

  • That Mr Gove had used a rhetorical trope called hyperbolic simile. Whether or not it succeeds, this tries to be funny by making an incongruous comparison. An example I gave on air was that “listening to the BBC is like having two wisdom teeth extracted.”
  • That everything has been, is and ever will be made a subject of humour. This is not to say that the joker is in favour of assaults against life and property.
  • That a country can be seen to be taking leave of its senses when jokes become dangerous.

Miss Fogarty’s eventual response was to say how long she had been a woman and how difficult this had been: and Mr Nolan went into a fit of virtue-signalling in which he repeatedly spoke over me. I declined his veiled invitation to tell a joke about rape. Instead, I pointed out that satire in this country has died for two reasons. One is that the “brave alternative comedians” of the 1980s have become po-faced commissars, enforcing political correctness. The other is that it is impossible to satirise a satire, and that modern England has become a vast open-air festival of satire.

And that was it. Listening to the BBC really is like having two wisdom teeth extracted. Going on it reminds me of the Greek city of Locris, where anyone proposing a new law had to speak before the Assembly with a rope about his neck – ready to be hanged if what he said was out of favour. And this may not be so hyperbolic a simile.

I have turned down every invitation this year to go on the radio or television. I rather wish I had turned this one down. If I come before you again, my Dear Readers, with a tale of what I said on the Establishment media, please feel free to hold me in contempt. It is no more than I shall deserve.


  1. While I absolutely understand your weariness, the silent listeners are grateful whenever you put your neck on the line and defend the undefendable. An interrupting host might have the upper hand in the argument, but it will no doubt infuriate listeners that sympathise with your position. I didn’t hear the programme, I like neither the BBC nor invasive dentistry, but I’m glad you did it. Gladder still that I didn’t have to.

  2. Stephen Nolan is a horrible, obnoxious, smug fatty and Shelagh Fogarty is a toad-faced imbecile. So there. Now get the police on me.

    The radio clip is hilarious. It’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever listened to. It’s as if what Macaulay said about the English has been taken to heart and applied in some extreme and twisted (but paradoxically funny) dystopia in which jokes are made illegal.

    It actually is just like watching Brass Eye or Blue Jam. [Does anybody else here remember the old Blue Jam radio series – ironically broadcast on Radio 4?]. In all seriousness, somebody should send the clip to Chris Morris. I can just imagine him as the Mister Interview character speaking to Shelagh Fogarty and trying desperately to keep a straight face while asking her questions like: Do you think we should execute Bad Jokers or just ban them from the airwaves? Do we have a national crisis on our hands with Bad Jokes or is it just a minority like this Gabb character?

  3. This post is worse than being tied up in legal language drafted by one of Weinstein’s lawyers; left in a chair in an anonymous hotel suite procured by Mr Weinstein, and then surprised by the man himself, emerging from behind the curtains.

    Just kidding!

Leave a Reply