Batten down the hatches! BBC phone scandals go back 20 years

 by Martin Belam, 15 October 2007

Tomorrow is the twentieth anniversary of Britain's "Great Storm" on 1987, which is estimated to have felled 15 million trees, and killed 23 people.

BBC's Breakfast programme this morning was reminiscing about it all, in the company of Michael Fish. He famously (well, in tabloid folklore anyway) declared that there wasn't going to be a storm with the immortal line:

"Earlier on today, apparently, a woman rang the BBC and said she heard there was a hurricane on the way… well, if you're watching, don't worry, there isn't"

He was partly there to, once again, refute the story that the BBC hadn't predicted the storm. Storm warnings had been issued, and later on in the 15th Bill Giles had stressed that there was going to be a lot of rain overnight.

However, his main point was about that 'hurricane' claim. Michael Fish insists that the clip has been taken out of context, and that he was talking about the hurricane situation in Florida.

In the course of the conversation on the comfy Breakfast studio sofa, he made an astonishing revelation.

"I was probably the first of the BBC's phone-in scandals."

The present mood of staff at the BBC was summed up nicely by the fact that nobody else on the sofa even raised a smile at his quip.

It turns out that a woman hadn't phoned the BBC - instead it was a BBC member of staff who had phoned his mother in Florida concerned about the news reports there.

Shocking stuff, though. Not only does it appear that the weather forecast was in effect an unscripted two-way - the bête noir of the Hutton Report - but Michael Fish made up a member of the public phoning the BBC.

Given the current air of mea culpa surrounding the Corporation, I fully expect that by this afternoon, Jonathan Powell - Controller of BBC One at the tail-end of 1987 - will have have retrospectivly fallen on his ceremonial sword outside Television Centre, and the BBC Trust will have announced a new trawl of programming material looking for mistakes, deception and fakery over the whole of the last 20 years.

1 Comment

I've got some misgivings about Tony Blackburn's dog, who I think may have been prerecorded, but I'm not sure which line manager to take my concerns to.

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