Following on from Monday’s review of Arthur, I thought I should provide context for those outside the UK with mention of this recent documentary report from the Dispatches documentary series from the UK’s Channel 4. But before doing so, let’s heed the warning of the current Attorney General, the Rt Hon Victoria Prentis KC MP ‘Following the airing of “Russell Brand: In Plain Sight: Dispatches” on 16 September 2023, there has been extensive reporting about Russell Brand. The Attorney General, the Rt Hon Victoria Prentis KC MP, wishes to amplify the importance of not publishing any material where there is a risk that it could prejudice any potential criminal investigation or prosecutions. Publishing this material could amount to contempt of court. Editors, publishers, and social media users should take legal advice to ensure they are in a position to fully comply with the obligations to which they are subject under the common law and Contempt of Court Act 1981.The Attorney General’s Office is monitoring the coverage of these allegations.’
Everyone has the right to be presumed innocent until found guilty, so there’s a good and well-established reason why writers and editors should take care in what they publish on this subject. But the point of the Channel 4 Dispatches film is not so much to muck-rake about Brand’s sexual life, something he made a selling point of his own ‘brand’ of comedy for nearly two decades, but to expose the way that his behaviour, criminal or not, has been facilitated and covered up. One comic, Scot Daniel Sloss, talks about how any public mention of Brand as a predator was swiftly gagged.
I was sent to cover Brand’s appearance at Edinburgh’s Assembly Rooms in August 2006; I’d never seen his reality tv programme Big Brother’s Big Mouth. My review noted that his show was largely just boasting of his sexual exploits, reading aloud newspaper cuttings about his own sexual exploits, a few dog-eared observations about how ‘it’s always the people you don’t like the look of on the bus that turn out to be staying at the same hotel as you on holiday’ and that he’d arrived late and left early during a short one hour set. The next morning, a furious Brand rubbished me, my paper and my review all over his social media, claiming it was all lies and that there must be some other agenda at work. This public feud made me something of a magnet for negative information about Brand and goings on at his Edinburgh flat, which soon became a matter of police investigation; the story made the newspapers at the time, from that point onwards, anyone with five seconds to google his name would have some idea of Brand’s lifestyle choices.
The Dispatches documentary is surprising in that the expose is made by the same broadcaster who had previously platformed and played a substantial part in bringing Brand to public fame. That’s unusual in itself, but what was well documented was that production team at Endemol has been wrestling with Brand’s behaviour for some time previously, and that rather than being published, reprimanded or admonished, Brand was encouraged. A voice-over notes that Brand soon went to work on two St Trinian’s films, but there’s no editorial comment on why these ‘naughty schoolgirl’ stories might be seen as the right vehicle for a 30+ man who was currently dating a 16 year old girl.
Picking up where he left off, Brand was kicked upstairs to the BBC where he formed a bromantic partnership with the like-minded Jonathan Ross who screeched ‘he f**ked your grand-daughter’ down the phone to the late Andrew Sachs and giggles with delight at Brand’s slut-shaming of a young girl; for what its worth, Ross had recently been rewarded with the Order of the British Empire. Dispatches depicts Brand as a BBC DJ, exposing himself on air, ‘having sex with competition winners’, and repackaged as a family entertainer, featuring in the popular Despicable Me films, animated Easter bunny cartoon Hop, in the Trolls movie and other projects. Again, there seems to be zero background checks when it comes to stardom; instead Brand’s pattern of behaviour is his brand, and the bait that producers hoped would bring in audiences..
‘You don’t want to be around when the laughter stops…’ says Brand in a featured clip here; part of what makes the documentary so compelling is seeing Brand confess to his own behaviour with a smirk and a pause for laughter. Whether Brand’s well-documented public behaviour is criminal or not is a matter for the authorities, but in the meantime, the public have a right to ask why, when Brand’s own public statements present himself as a sexual miscreant, he was constantly put in positions that gave him access to vulnerable young women. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest why Brand and others of his mindset should not have been so prominently platformed for over a decade by the media, and that’s a glaring, urgent issue that everyone should have the right to discuss. With no current criminal proceedings against Brand, it could be years before wider issues about broadcasting responsibilities can be addressed. When women (and men) complain about not being listened to, and the official government response is to tell them to keep quiet, then this appears a very 2023 problem, and not one that belongs to the ‘different time’ that was all of 15 years ago.