'Ding Dong' decision was 'rational response', says BBC Radio comms head

The BBC's decision to play only a few seconds of the 'Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead' song on Radio 1's Chart Show following the death of Baroness Thatcher was a 'rational response to a difficult situation', according to James Hardy, head of comms at BBC Radio.

Margaret Thatcher: death sparked 'Ding Dong' sales
Margaret Thatcher: death sparked 'Ding Dong' sales

The 51-second song charted at number two in the Top 40, driven by a protest against the legacy of the former prime minister, who died last Monday. Instead of playing the song in full on the Radio 1 Chart Show yesterday, the BBC aired a news item including five seconds of the song, explaining why it was in the charts.

Hardy said the official figures for complaints and number of listeners of yesterday’s Radio 1 Chart Show were still being compiled, but that whichever way the situation played out, the BBC was ‘very aware that we couldn’t win’.

He said: ‘There were people on both sides of the argument, from those who were outraged to those who thought it was a question of freedom of speech, and we had to tread the delicate path, which was to do what the overwhelming majority of the audience would see as a logical response.’

BBC Radio 1’s controller Ben Cooper wrote in his blog on Friday that he found the response to the death of Baroness Thatcher ‘distasteful’. However, he outlined that 'nobody at Radio 1 wishes to cause offence but nor do I believe that we can ignore the song in the chart show, which is traditionally a formal record of the biggest-selling singles of the week'.

Sam Oxley, managing partner at House PR, said the BBC was always going to be in a ‘no-win situation’ as to how best to handle the song.

She said: ‘I can easily see how Ben Cooper’s "difficult compromise" was agreed as the best route forward.

‘However, I am not sure Thatcher would have been quite so amenable to the compromise. I am inclined to agree with [radio presenter] Paul Gambaccini who has rightly noted that the charts are a historical record, and in reality if the track had reached number one, it really should have been played.’

Hardy added that the fall-out from how the situation was handled would become evident through the complaints received. He said that a week ago, the number of complaints accusing the BBC of pandering to the left or the right over the song were ‘evenly balanced on both sides’.

He said that a decision had not yet been made about how the song would be handled in next week’s chart show.

The ‘Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead’ song, officially credited to the Wizard of Oz Film cast, sold 52,605 copies, according to figures from The Official Charts Company.

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