Russell Brand lands BBC in hot water

Prank phone call receives hostile response

LONDON — He starred in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and was picked as one of Variety‘s 10 comics to watch, but Russell Brand’s latest performance is no laughing matter for the BBC.

The pubcaster received more than 10,000 complaints after Brand’s pre-recorded BBC Radio 2 show was allowed to go to air on Oct. 18 even though it contained audio of Brand and co-host Jonathon Ross leaving lewd messages on the voicemail of veteran actor Andrew Sachs, who’d had to cancel his appearance on the show.

The prank messages concerned an alleged sexual escapade with Sachs’ 23-year-old granddaughter, Georgina Baillie, a model and performer with burlesque dance group the Satanic Sluts.

Brand called back during the show to apologize and later issued a private apology, which Sachs said he never received although he said he did get one from Ross.

But public disgust at the BBC’s latest gaffe has reached the top echelons, as commentators and politicians weighed in to bash the Beeb.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Gordon Brown called the incident “clearly inappropriate and unacceptable.”

The BBC has also apologized and described the broadcast as “unacceptable and offensive.”

The prank is being probed by the BBC and U.K. media regulator Ofcom to see if the duo breached the broadcasting code.

The incident has again called into question the editorial chain of command at the pubcaster, taken to task last year for showing a doctored trailer for a documentary that wrongly appeared to show Queen Elizabeth II flouncing out of a photo shoot.

Former BBC topper Will Wyatt, whose inquiry into that matter caused a BBC1 exec to resign, described Brand and Ross as “acting like drunken teenagers in a phone box trying to rag one of their chums.”

He added: “But actually this was broadcast over a license fee paid-for network, and it was to an aging actor who hadn’t done anyone any harm. One way or another, someone should take some pain for this.”

Sachs, 78, is best known for playing a Spanish waiter in classic British comedy “Fawlty Towers,” starring John Cleese.