BBC Radio 2 chief quits over prank calls

LONDON (Reuters) - The head of BBC Radio 2 resigned and Jonathan Ross was suspended for 12 weeks on Thursday over prank phone calls made to actor Andrew Sachs on Britain’s most popular radio station.

Lesley Douglas told BBC Director-General Mark Thompson that she took responsibility for the furore over messages left by Ross and Russell Brand on the “Fawlty Towers” actor’s answer phone.

Pressure has mounted on the BBC to act all week after the calls drew 30,000 complaints, criticism from Prime Minister Gordon Brown and newspaper condemnation of the corporation’s handling of the episode.

Douglas, who was appointed controller of the music and chat station in 2003, said the decision to quit was hers alone.

“It is a matter of the greatest possible sadness to me that a programme on my network has been the cause of such a controversy,” she wrote in a letter to Thompson that was released by the BBC.

Thompson said he had accepted her resignation “with real sadness” after holding talks with the editorial standards board of the BBC Trust, the corporation’s governing body.

Ross, 47, one of the BBC’s best known and highest paid presenters, kept his job, despite what Thompson described as his “utterly unacceptable” behaviour.

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“A 12-week suspension is an exceptional step, but I believe it is a proportionate response to Jonathan’s role in this unhappy affair,” Thompson said in a statement.

The prank has already led to the resignation of Brand, 33, a flamboyant comic who has branched out into acting in Hollywood films including the romantic comedy “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.”

The row erupted after the duo joked Brand had slept with the granddaughter of 78-year-old Andrew Sachs, who played Spanish waiter Manuel in the cult comedy series “Fawlty Towers.” They also joked that Sachs might kill himself after hearing messages left on his phone.

In a statement released on Thursday, the BBC Trust said the calls were a “deplorable intrusion” into the privacy of Sachs and his grand-daughter.

It said the BBC’s editorial control in areas other than news gathering was inadequate and must be strengthened.

“The BBC has fallen way short of the public’s overall expectations in this case, and it is essential that lessons are learned to avoid further lapses in the future,” it said.

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(Additional reporting by Peter Griffiths)

Editing by Astrid Zweynert