20 September 2023

‘Lad culture’ enabled Russell Brand – and women like me who didn’t go along with it were labelled ‘frigid’


Eighteen months since the sculpture of Prospero and Ariel by the artist Eric Gill outside the BBC’s iconic Broadcasting House was attacked, it is still encased in scaffolding. 

A protestor pounded the 1930s sculpture with a hammer, angry that outside what is meant to be the bastion of British values was a piece of art by a man who – it was discovered in 1989 via his secret diaries – had sexually abused two of his daughters, his sisters and even the family dog. 

The BBC mulled for a year about what to do about the sculpture – fix it or pull it down? It opted for the former and began work on it in May – but it was attacked once again a few weeks later. Work was meant to have finished weeks ago, but the scaffolding remains. 

It was easier to erase Russell Brand. Yesterday the corporation announced everything starring the now disgraced comic would be expunged from the iPlayer, as has Channel 4. Both corporations are also undertaking urgent investigations into what happened.

The inquiries into male television presenters alleged to have behaved badly are rather piling up, aren’t they?

Even for journalists who write about entertainment like me, the scale of what The Times and Dispatches teams uncovered about Brand’s alleged behaviour – rape, sexual abuse, coercion – was shocking. It must be said that Brand denies all the allegations of illegal behaviour. 

Much debate around Brand has been centred around the early noughties ‘lad culture’ which encouraged men to be as lewd as possible. I was there as a young tabloid journalist and I know how women who didn’t go along with this – the lap dancing clubs, the paparazzi fad of ‘upskirting’, Britney Spears in a school uniform – were labelled prudes or frigid or lesbians for not wanting to join in ‘the fun’. 

The discomfort of the young female runners who were forced to approach young women who had appeared in the audience of their television shows on behalf of the insatiable Brand feels sickeningly familiar. As comic Katherine Ryan has said, she and fellow comedians were concerned about being labelled ‘troublemakers’ for calling out what they believed was his predatory behaviour. 

Thankfully, that did not stop her trying, and trying and trying. 

One of the things which both surprised and depressed me about the allegations was that as recently as ten years ago, according to one testimony, television workers at Channel 4 knew enough about his predatory behaviour that they discussed taking female crew off a show as a way of keeping them safe. They were happy to deny women career opportunities so long as it meant they could continue to employ Brand. 

Sadly, lewd and predatory behaviour were not confined to the noughties. It has always been there and I imagine it always will be. Society and the way women are sneered at hasn’t changed – just the parameters. Today women are labelled prudes or ‘Karens’ for saying they don’t want to see male penises in their toilets and changing rooms, just as women were sneered at for saying in the noughties that, no, we’d rather not have a lap dance bought for us in a professional situation. 

And while there is plenty of shirt-tearing debate about comics not being allowed to say certain things, just a year ago, Frankie Boyle was joking about raping Holly Willoughby yet he continues to be, as Brand once was, a favourite of the left wing luvvie crowd and a regular on television.  

Brand’s band of conspiracy theorists have huddled around him. ‘This is just the MSM [mainstream media] wanting to shut him up because of the truth he tells,’ they whisper conspiratorially. 

But, apart from Brand himself, the people who come out worst in this sorry episode are the broadcasters who continued to employ him despite complaints from women who had worked with him and the newspapers and magazines who gave him columns because of, not despite, the way he spoke about women (‘I like them blow jobs, right, where it goes in their neck a little bit…Them blow jobs where the mascara runs a little bit’).

The MSM created Brand, forgave him his many excesses – even if they didn’t know the worst of them – and probably would have continued to employ him if he hadn’t found an even more gullible audience to lap up his narcissism via his YouTube channel. 

From Harvey Weinstein to Bill Cosby, R Kelly to Jimmy Savile, all too often media executives and their phalanx of lawyers have protected dangerous predatory behaviour because, somehow, ‘talent’ is more important than wrong doing. The MSM can create monsters. 

For now, there is much beating of chests as everyone starts to point the finger at each other over who allowed this behaviour to continue. I imagine that someone might lose their job. 

Then the metaphorical scaffolding will be erected over this latest outcrop of scandal. 

But what I want to know is, next time someone behaves like this – and there will be a next time – will they believe the junior female workers or will they protect the star? 

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Nicole Lampert is a freelance journalist.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.