A fading chat show king – once revered for his irreverence – finds himself occupying a late-night slot on a classical music station.
While it sounds like a new incarnation for a spoof Alan Partridge character, in truth the man behind the microphone on Classic FM’s Saturday Night At The Movies is all too real. It is foul-mouthed presenter Jonathan Ross.
It is ironic if nothing else. Ross, 62, whose edgy TV shows in the 80s and 90s had critics hailing the rebirth of British satire, is now bookending his career working for a radio station that could not be more Establishment.
And yet this is no fall from grace, far from it. Classic FM is simply another remarkable string to his bow.
For unfathomable though it seems to many, Ross remains omnipresent on our screens and airwaves.
IAN GALLAGHER: A fading chat show king – once revered for his irreverence – finds himself occupying a late-night slot on a classical music station (Pictured: Jonathon Ross)
Who would have countenanced ITV still broadcasting The Jonathan Ross Show, a platform for his blend of filth and fawning? Or giving him a high-profile judges’ role on one of its biggest family programmes, The Masked Singer?
Particularly not after the so-called Sachsgate affair which has come back to haunt him after 15 years because of the Russell Brand scandal, and has lost none of its repugnance over time.
To recap, Ross and Brand left gratuitously obscene messages for Andrew Sachs, tormenting the Fawlty Towers star, then 78, over Brand’s brief fling with his granddaughter, Georgina Baillie.
It was Ross, as revealed by The Mail on Sunday at the time, who shouted ‘he f***ed your granddaughter’ during one of the appalling calls, aired on Brand’s then Radio 2 show.
In the resulting uproar, Brand was sacked and Ross – then one of the BBC’s highest-paid broadcasters – suspended. He eventually slunk off to ITV where he continues to make millions.
But the deeply distressing episode continues to reverberate.
Miss Baillie says Ross has never said sorry to her personally, though he made a general apology at the time, saying he was ‘deeply sorry’ for his ‘juvenile and thoughtless remarks’ and wrote to her grandfather.
She said: ‘It makes me feel like I don’t matter and I’m just some disposable tart.’
IAN GALLAGHER: It was Ross, as revealed by The Mail on Sunday at the time, who shouted ‘he f***ed your granddaughter’ during one of the appalling calls, aired on Brand’s then Radio 2 show
Seven days ago, in an interview in The Mail on Sunday, she said: ‘At least Russell Brand said sorry and paid for my rehab. The man I really can’t forgive is Jonathan Ross.’
Despite this ‘deplorable intrusion’ into the Sachs family – as the BBC Trust described it after an investigation – Ross is himself sensitive about privacy.
Two years before he humiliated the Sachses, his solicitors wrote to Fleet Street editors, passing on his dismay at having been photographed playing tennis with actor David Baddiel.
This was, they said, a breach of Ross’s ‘right of privacy’ under the Human Rights Act 1998 and the European Convention on Human Rights.
One rule for him and another for his targets?
A new generation learning about Sachsgate for the first time have expressed shock on social media. Others have found themselves angered second time around.
Even before his treatment of Andrew Sachs, there was a question mark over Ross.
Like a classroom bully’s silent mate, ITV bosses always stood by him, though, and are still said to be ‘in thrall’ to him.
IAN GALLAGHER: Miss Georgina Baillie says Ross has never said sorry to her personally, though he made a general apology at the time
IAN GALLAGHER: ITV appears happy to take risks with Ross, even if in other areas the broadcaster slavishly follows a woke agenda
But Ross trails his BBC rival Graham Norton – who consistently has starrier guests – in the chat show stakes.
Much has changed of course in the past 15 years. Lewd comments and dirty-flirting with female guests are beyond the pale in this #MeToo age.
Nevertheless, earlier this year Ross engaged in uninvited obscene onscreen banter with comic Katherine Ryan about her sex life after she had made a jokey comment about it herself.
There was a backlash from appalled viewers. One commented that it was ‘as funny as a cot death’ and suggested that ‘nothing speaks more to the decline of television’.
Previously, Ross asked then-Tory leader David Cameron if he’d ever masturbated while thinking of Margaret Thatcher.
And during an interview with Gwyneth Paltrow, Ross told the actress ‘I would f*** you’, adding that she was ‘clearly gagging for it’. He also congratulated Madonna – after she adopted her daughter Mercy – on her ‘lovely little black baby’, and called Heather McCartney – whose leg was amputated after being hit by a police motorbike – a ‘f****** liar’, jokingly adding: ‘I wouldn’t be surprised if we found out she’s actually got two legs.’
Last year, he criticised Radio 2 for becoming ‘risk-averse’ and ‘dull’, having introduced more safeguards following the Sachsgate incident.
Meanwhile, ITV appears happy to take risks with Ross, even if in other areas the broadcaster slavishly follows a woke agenda.
How long they will keep promoting him, a man seemingly out of step with the times, remains to be seen. Still, there’s always Classic FM, giving him the chance to indulge himself, playing his favourite – if very niche – Japanese animation studio music, as it did last night.