Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Carol Thatcher and the gollywog

So Carol Thatcher is likely not to be used again by the BBC, where she was a regular on the One Show, for referring to a tennis player, thought to be Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, as a gollywog. She did so in the green room - ie within the BBC, but off-air - after a couple of drinks, in conversation with Jo Brand and Adrian Chiles. Chiles is thought to be the one who, in the language of the schoolroom, grassed her up.

Iain Dale has his knickers in a twist about this, but while I think he may have a point about consistency and its kid glove treatment of the foul Chris "Polish women make good prostitutes" Moyles, I don't have a problem with Thatcher's dismissal. The term she used clearly has racist connotations; it seems she used it about a black person; and while the conversation could be described as 'private', she was on BBC property and within her broader work environment. For me, that's case closed.

But Dale's take has raised an interesting question. He originally reported that Thatcher had used the term about white Andy Murray, specifically his hair. If that had been the case, would it still have been right to fire Thatcher? Does the sackability of what she did depend on who she was talking about, or just the word she used? Personally, I think it's a combination of the two. If she had used the n-word in describing Murray then, once more, get your coat. But would describing a white man as having hair like a gollywog be sack-worthy? I think not.

Similarly, if she had used the term gollywog, or even the n-word, to describe Tsonga in a wholly private conversation - away from work, not with work people - then JM's call, as long as she didn't act in a racist way within the work environment, would be: don't sack.

Crumbs, it's Sootygate all over again, except this time I can cling thankfully to the bien-pensant side of the barricades...

Update: much of the heat and light around this odd little controversy seems to hinge on whether Thatcher's conversation was a 'private' conversation. As I've said above, as far as I'm concerned it would be wrong for her to sacked for anything she said, say, in the pub, or at a dinner party. But it seems clear to me that a conversation in a BBC green room is not a 'private conversation'. She said what she said at work, just as if she said it in the office.

I would add something I didn't make clear above, which is I think it important that she has refused to apologise. If straight after this she had said to BBC management 'yes, it was a crass and stupid thing to say, and I'm sorry I said it and that it offended others', then I don't think it would have been right to 'dispense with her services'. But she didn't. And she continues to refuse to.

Update 2: I see that James Forsyth at Coffee House thinks along similar lines regarding the 'privacy' or otherwise of the conversation, in his post "The green room is a place of work".

10 comments:

dNo said...

Ah, the Mac is back.
And straight into Sootygate 3...
I'm sitting this one out!

Captain Haddock said...

whoosh!
What was that?
JM's liberal credentials flying out the window

the.magic.dragon said...

good on you carol.

Jonny Mac said...

It wasn't a private conversation, it took place at her workplace.

She didn't apologise.

If you accept those two points, I don't see what argument there is for saying the BBC did not act inappropriately in sacking her.

Some come on Captain. Should we all be free to hurl racist epithets at black people at our place of work and refuse to apologise when someone, unsurprisingly, is offended?

And magic - good on her for what?

Captain Haddock said...

"Hurl racist epithets"? You'll have her "foaming at the mouth" next, JM.

Anonymous said...

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/charlesmoore/4520977/Golly-now-we-know-whats-truly-offensive.html

nuff said.

dNo said...

Jonny,
"I don't see what argument there is for saying the BBC did not act inappropriately in sacking her."
You dont want that not in there do you, otherwise you are arguing against yourself...

Jonny Mac said...

dNo - oh yes. well you know what I mean...

JG said...

Hannah Pool in the Guardian today says everything that needs to be said on this matter:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2009/feb/06/bbc-race-golliwog

I cannot believe there is actually any serious debate about this. Is it okay to use the word Golliwog? No. Should she have been sacked? Yes.

This has none of the nuances of Sootygate, so I wasn't even going to bother getting involved but that Charles Moore article posted by 'anonymous' was just too annoying. (Although I agree with him re Jonathan Ross, who I also think should have been sacked.)

I don't understand why people seem unable to distinguish the issue of 'free speech' from the completely separate issue of whether a company should fire people who behave like tossers. If I rang a senior work 'contact', and told him I'd shagged his granddaughter, I'd be sacked and quite right too. If I referred to a black colleague as a gollywog, likewise.

Daf said...

Come on Jonny Mac. Stop sitting on the fence and tell us what we should think about today's outrage - one-eyed-idiotgate.