BBC denies dropping satire

R4 comedy 'not a victim of Hutton'

The BBC has denied reports it is shelving a satirical comedy in the wake of the Hutton Report - but admitted a key line about Blair being a liar had been edited out.

The Daily Telegraph today claims that an episode Radio 4's Absolute Power, starring Stephen Fry and John Bird, has been dropped because poking fun at the government would be "inappropriate" at this time.

But a corporation spokesman insisted Tuesday's episode would be broadcast as planned.

Cancelling the show would have fuelled fears that the BBC had caved into Downing Street following Lord Hutton's report into the suicide of weapons expert David Kelly.

The row has already claimed the jobs of chairman Gavyn Davies, director-general Greg Dyke and reporter Andrew Gilligan - and led to speculation the BBC would be less critical of the government in future.

Absolute Power, which has also transferred to TV, satirises the culture of spin doctors in No 10, for example referring to Alastair Campbell as: "Alas, it's a shambles".

The first episode in the new series is remarkably timely, portraying the BBC's attempts to rebuild bridges with the government following the Hutton Report.

In it, Fry's Machiavellian character Charles Prentiss says there is nothing he could "teach this prime minister about deception, manipulation and lying. Except how to do it properly".

Writer Mark Tavener said he was told: "It has been pulled because you can't call Tony Blair a liar in the current climate.

"If they're getting this anxious about a little comedy, what are they going to be like about things that are far more serious."

In a letter to the Guardian, Radio 4 controller Helen Boaden said: "Because the programme that dealt with the Hutton report was written and recorded late last year, it anticipated a different outcome.

"It was agreed that almost all the material was remarkably prescient but that one or two remarks had been overtaken by events. These were the only edits."

But the BBC spokesman said: "I do not think there was any talk of it being scrapped."

Published: 4 Feb 2004

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