7 of the most complained-about TV moments of all time, from Celebrity Big Brother to Brass Eye

It’s been ten years since once of the most controversial and complained about TV moments ever: the Celebrity Big Brother race row of 2007. And an incredible 20 years since Brass Eye first aired. Which got us thinking…

We all love a moan, especially about telly. But sometimes Twitter isn’t enough of an outlet for our complaints and we have to Put The Foot Down. That’s when the outraged millions turn to Ofcom.

We’ve already looked at some of the downright daft times that viewers complained over, but what are the all-time offenders? Here are just some of the classics.

1. Celebrity Big Brother (2007)

Pick any year since Ofcom was formed in 2003, and you’ll usually find Big Brother or its celebrity spinoff right at the top of the most complained-about shows.

The biggest controversy of the series’ history was the Shilpa Shetty vs Jade Goody/Jo O’Meara/Danielle Lloyd race row in CBB 2007, a scandal which actually got raised in Parliament and sparked protests around the world.

Viewers were angered after perceiving Jade and co’s angry exchanges with Shilpa as racially-motivated. An explosive argument about stock cubes spiralled out of control with Jade telling her she needed a “day in the slums”, while Danielle said Shilpa should “f**k off home” and that she “can’t speak English properly”. There was also Jade’s infamous “Shilpa Poppadom” remark.

A record 44,500 people complained to Ofcom, with a further 3,000 contacting Channel 4. The show was taken off the air for a year, but Shilpa soon forgave Jade for her comments, after Jade admitted that what she said appeared as racist.

2. Brass Eye – Paedogeddon (2001)

Chris Morris’s satirical take on the UK’s moral panic and News of the World‘s name-and-shame campaigns of the time had the exact desired effect: lots and lots of complaints.

Around 3,000 viewers complained about the special, which featured various celebrities including Gary Lineker and Richard Blackwood being duped into fronting a spoof charity named Nonce Sense alongside other controversial – but very funny – moments.

3. Ghostwatch (1992)

Sometimes people have to complain because they got the crap scared out of them and they didn’t like it, dammit. Despite warnings at the start of the programme that it was a drama, a lot of people didn’t realise that the BBC’s one-off horror special was a bit of scripted fun.

Millions tuning in thought they were actually seeing Sarah Greene get killed by a ghost named Pipes, and so weren’t happy at all to realise that it was all one big joke.

An estimated 30,000 people called in to the show during its broadcast, with the tabloids criticising the BBC the next day. Ghostwatch ended up getting banned for 10 years, while 34 people took their complaints to the Broadcasting Standards Commission. The British Medical Journal also stated that at least two children suffered from PTSD from watching it. We get that every time we sit through Celebrity Juice.

4. Derren Brown: Seance (2004)

Illusionist Derren knows how to put on a show and make sure you will tune in. His first in 2003 saw him apparently playing a live game of Russian Roulette, complete with that long pause as he fired the final two shots. Fake or not, it was thrilling.

He followed this up with Séance, in which he brought together students for a live paranormal experiment involving a supposed haunted building. While the show itself wasn’t all that controversial (just bloody scary), it did receive hundreds of complaints before it even aired.

Around 700 people weren’t best pleased that a show would be dabbling with the paranormal in the first place. Most had come from religious groups who had not seen the show, but whose opinion was generally down with this sort of thing. Careful now.

5. Julian Clary’s naughty joke (1993)

In what was probably the most iconic moment in British Comedy Awards history, Julian Clary stole the show in 1993 when he compared the set to Hampstead Heath, and that he had just been “fisting” then-Chancellor of the Exchequer Normal Lamont. You wouldn’t see Michael McIntyre saying that.

Although the audience loved it (look at Martin Clunes’s face) and viewer complaints were surprisingly low, it was actually the newspapers who decided everyone was outraged. The Daily Mail and The Sun launched unsuccessful campaigns to have him banned from TV, and it arguably ended his mainstream career until he won Celebrity Big Brother in 2012.

6. Bill Grundy and the Sex Pistols (1976)

We’re used to everyone effing and jeffing on live TV nowadays (though Emma Willis still has to ask housemates to not swear on Big Brother eviction night). But back in 1976, the concept of several F-bombs at 6pm in the evening was a national scandal.

The culprits were technically the Sex Pistols – who were last-minute replacements for Queen on Today on Thames Television. But it was actually host Bill Grundy who continuously provoked his young punk guests into saying something “outrageous”.

After Grundy flirted with Siouxsie Sioux, Steve Jones couldn’t let it slide, telling him: “You dirty f**ker.” Grundy himself could be seen mouthing “Oh shit” as the band danced to the closing theme.

Viewers were obviously outraged, with one man apparently kicking in his new £380 TV set at the time. THAT’s how bad it was. Grundy’s career never quite recovered from the incident, with his last national onscreen appearance occurring in the early 1980s.

7. Jerry Springer: The Opera (2005)


Wow, that escalated quickly. The immortal words of Ron Burgundy perfectly fit this controversial moment in British TV history.

Stewart Lee and Richard Thomas’s musical – based on The Jerry Springer Show – had its fair share of controversial themes, it has to be said – but that didn’t stop it winning four Olivier Awards and have a highly successful international tour.

In January 2005, its broadcast on BBC Two was met with a whopping 55,000 complaints (mostly before the broadcast). The organisation Christian Voice protested at nine BBC offices, and wanted to charge the corporation with blasphemy over its hundreds of swear words, Jesus admitting he’s a “bit gay” and tap-dancing KKK members.

The Christian Institute also wanted to bring a private prosecution against the BBC, but the High Court refused to issue a summons. Stewart Lee’s response? “It did make me feel there was not much point ever trying to reach a mass audience with anything interesting and provocative. You just run the risk of being misunderstood on a large scale.”

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