In a past life I made documentaries for television. These were mainly hour long arts films on artists like Francis Bacon and Virginia Woolf, or what was then described as “factual entertainment” shows on celebrities, their obsessions and misdemeanors—these ranged from Peter Sellers to Freddie Mercury. One of the many tabloid tales was a romp through the stories of four BBC presenters and their unfortunate dabbling with a Class A drug.
Called Snorting Coke with the BBC this documentary is small fry compared to the scale and horror of recent scandals that have engulfed the BBC since—see DM passim. The program focused on four highly successful presenters whose lives were unraveled by a liking for the sherbets.
These four men were:
Frank Bough—a likeable, avuncular, seemingly very, very ordinary breakfast time host who had a secret life enjoying the pleasures of drugs, cross-dressing and S&M dungeons.
Richard Bacon—another highly likeable, pleasant, young children’s presenter who was grassed up about having a snort after a night out with friends.
Angus Deayton—an acerbic, witty, actor-cum-quiz show host whose private life almost destroyed his career.
Johnnie Walker—a legendary radio DJ who was ensnared by a fake sheik journalist in a very underhanded sting.
Like most—or at least many—of the people who work in the media, this quartet had sampled the delights of powdered goods. Unfortunately for them—they were caught out in lurid and rather unfair tabloid exposes.
By being caught, these four individuals placed the BBC in a very difficult position. In many respects, the Beeb was being led by the nose (ahem) on how to respond to their stars’ misdemeanors.
The names may not be well known outside of the UK—but that honestly doesn’t matter as the stories are interesting, well-explained and still have a certain relevance to today.
This is how broadcaster Channel 4 described the program on its release in August 2003:
Snorting Coke with the BBC takes a wry look at some of the most highly publicised cases of BBC TV and radio celebrities caught using drugs and examines the attitude of the media towards their behaviour, their subsequent fall from grace and, in some cases, their rehabilitation. Frank Bough, Johnnie Walker, Richard Bacon and Angus Deayton are the stars featured as the circumstances surrounding their dismissal from the BBC are examined. Along with their cocaine use, Frank, Johnnie and Angus were caught in various sexually compromising positions, raising questions about the connection between drugs and sex.
The programme looks at the reaction of their employers, their colleagues and the press to what happened, asking if their response was at times an over-reaction, or if there were inconsistencies in the way that they were dealt with.
Amongst those interviewed are journalists, presenters and media commentators (including the now ubiquitous Piers Morgan and current CEO of the New York Times, Mark Thompson) who all discuss the BBC, the media and their relationship to drugs.
More after the jump…