Newspapers have rounded on David Walliams over a cheeky joke he made about One Direction singer Harry Styles.
Just two people complained to broadcast watchdogs Ofcom about the gag on Chris Moyles’ Quiz Night two weeks ago – yet the supposed controversy has been amplified with at least 166 newspaper articles this weekend, according to Google News.
However, a complaint to Ofcom in itself is not in itself newsworthy. In its last bulletin, covering just a two-week period, the regulator recorded complaints about just over 200 broadcast items.
The gag came following a video One Direction had recorded for the show. Afterwards Moyles and Walliams affected the tone of infatuated schoolgirls discussing who their favourite band member was.
In the exchange that aired at 10.20pm – well after the 9pm watershed – they agreed it was 17-year-old Styles, because of his hair.
‘I’d like to be his mate and go out drinking cider in the park,’ said Moyles in a dreamy voice.
‘I’d like to suck his cock,’ Walliams replied.
Campaigners described the gag ‘disgusting’ and ‘appalling’ and argued it was as distasteful as the phone calls that Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand made to Andrew Sachs in 2008. That, too, initially attracted just two complaints – until the Mail on Sunday got hold of the story.
Of the Walliams joke, Peter Foot, the chairman of the National Campaign for Courtesy, told The Sunday Telegraph: ‘I've never heard of anything going this far.’
‘I'm amazed there hasn't been more of an uproar about this because that it is incredibly graphic language to use. It doesn't leave much to the imagination.’
Vivienne Pattison, of pressure group Mediawatch, added: ‘Jokes like this set up a context of behaviour that somehow normalises and justifies it. This is leading to a coarsening of our culture.’
The Sunday Telegraph, which broke this story, was keen to play up the likelihood of youngsters watching the show. They referred to the line as ‘the lewd joke made by the children's' author’ and asserted that the show ‘is likely to have attracted a large teenage audience’ among its 1.1million viewers.
One reader on its bulletin board even called for Walliams to be prosecuted for paedophilia, even though Styles is over the age of consent and the line clearly a joke.
According to research by GMG Radio today, the average age of Chris Moyle's Radio One breakfast show audience is 33.
A Channel 4 spokesman said: ‘The show was appropriately scheduled post-watershed at 10pm and viewers were warned of strong language and adult humour.’
Last week, Walliams was pictured posing as Styles – and the rest of his boy band – in a photoshoot for Heat magazine.