Russell Brand: What was Sachsgate? What Brand and Jonathan Ross said to Andrew Sachs in 'prank' calls explained
Russell Brand caused a public outcry when he and presenter Jonathan Ross made ‘humiliating’ prank calls on a BBC radio show in 2008
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The accusations have been revealed in a joint investigation by The Times, Sunday Times and Channel 4. The Times published an article about the details of the investigation earlier today and a special Dispatches programme, called Russell Brand: In Plain Sight, about it also due to be aired tonight at 9pm (Saturday 16 September).
The accusation, which Brand has said he “absolutely refute(s)”, has led some people to speak out in support of him, but also against him. Many are also talking about Brand’s previous controversial behaviour, including ‘Sachsgate’, when he and presenter Jonathan Ross made a prank phone call to now late actor Andrew Sachs in 2008 making inappropriate comments about Sachs' granddaughter Georgina Baillie.
But, what exactly was the Sachsgate scandal, what were the consequences of it, will it be featured in the Dispatches documentary? Here’s what you need to know.
What was Sachsgate?
In 2008, Brand, who was then 33, and presenter Jonathan Ross left a series of lewd and inappropriate messages on the answerphone of now late Fawlty Towers actor Andrew Sachs about a romantic encounter Brand had supposedly had with his granddaughter Georgina Baillie, who is 10 years his junior.
The calls were made as part of an apparent prank during a BBC Radio 2 show called The Russell Brand Show, which was pre-recorded, and when it aired on Saturday 18 October there was uproar. The incident was subsequently dubbed ‘Sachsgate’.
In total, the pair left three messages on Sachs’ answerphone, making repeated and somewhat graphic claims about Brand’s alleged encounter with Baillie, and Brand even made a joke that he was calling to ask for Sachs’ permission to marry his granddaughter.
Later on in the show, Ross then said that if people were offended by the prank calls they had made to Sachs they were “crazy”.
What were the consequences of Sachsgate?
Brand and then controller of Radio 2 Lesley Douglas quit as a result. Ross was also suspended from broadcasting for three months, and there was a change in the way BBC output was vetted. Both Brand and Ross apologised for their actions later in October 2008, and in the same month the BBC also apologised to Sachs.
In 2009, Ofcom also fined the BBC £150,000 over the phone calls, describing them as “gratuitously offensive, humiliating and demeaning”.
During an interview for BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs in 2013 Brand, who is known as a political activist, claimed the scandal had erupted because he had become caught up in an anti-BBC “agenda”, however. He did reiterate his apology for the upset the incident caused, but suggested it was a “dishonest scandal” because it was hijacked by those motivated by a bias against the corporation.
In 2014, Brand is said to have written a letter to Sachs to apologise for the incident and in 2019 he reportedly went to visit Baillie to apologise for the calls he made to her grandfather, who died in 2016.
Will Sachsgate be featured in the Dispatches documentary?
It has not yet been revealed if the scandal will be spoken about in Russell Brand: In Plain Sight. The Times article does mention the scandal, stating that the BBC admitted that editorial standards had been broken.
Ahead of the airing of the show, however, the BBC have released a statement about their handling of the incident, stating that “the BBC takes issues seriously and is prepared to act.”
A BBC spokesperson said: “Russell Brand worked for a number of different organisations, of which the BBC was one. As is well known, Russell Brand left the BBC after a serious editorial breach in 2008 – as did the then-controller of Radio 2. The circumstances of the breach were reviewed in detail at the time. We hope that demonstrates that the BBC takes issues seriously and is prepared to act.
“Indeed, the BBC has, over successive years, evolved its approach to how it manages talent and how it deals with complaints or issues raised. We have clear expectations around conduct at work, these are set out in employment contracts, the BBC Values, the BBC Code of Conduct and the Anti-Bullying and Harassment Policy. We will always listen to people if they come forward with any concerns, on any issue related to any individual working at the BBC, past or present.”