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Ofcom to investigate Atkinson Comic Relief sketch

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Rowan Atkinson might be pleasantly surprised that his comedy can still manage to create a degree of controversy. Mr Bean might have been lowest common denominator slapstick for a global audience, but his recent Comic Relief skit has provoked more than 3,000 complaints to Ofcom.

As part of the BBC's annual hit and miss charity comedy night, Atkinson dressed up as the new Archbishop of Canterbury and delivered a somewhat risque address, touching on such ecumenical matters as “sh**ging your neighbour”, “arsing about”, and why prayer “doesn’t work”. The majority of the complaints to the BBC focused on the use of inappropriate language before the 9pm watershed. A minority of complaints singled out the religious offence caused.

The number of complaints has resulted in an official investigation by the regulator Ofcom to ascertain whether the swearing was acceptable before the 9pm watershed and whether the sketch came within “generally accepted standards”.

The BBC, highly nervous of any criticism at present, already seems to have accepted that it didn't. They apologised for the sketch and removed it from its iPlayer web page. Their statement said: “Comic Relief programming is made for a varied and wide-ranging audience, so getting the language, tone and content of the evening is extremely important to us. To any viewers we may have offended, we apologise. Rowan is well known for his comedy characters and this was an affectionate portrayal of an Archbishop figure, which was intended to amuse and entertain. We did not mean to cause any offence.”

The issue will no doubt add fuel to the campaign by some Conservative MPs and by Middle England's newsletter for the easily offended, The Daily Mail, to cow the BBC. There was substantial criticism recently of the BBC's coverage of Margaret Thatcher's death because they broadcast some acknowledgement of dissenting voices amidst the establishment's reverence.

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