Frank Bough died in a care home last Wednesday. He fronted the BBC flagship sports programme Grandstand and got BBC Breakfast Time – the first TV breakfast show in Britain – off the ground in 1983. He was a hugely accomplished and admired broadcaster, until in 1988 a tabloid newspaper revealed that he took cocaine and associated with prostitutes. The BBC dropped him, and while he did some work with ITV and Sky, his career was damaged beyond repair.
So here’s the thing. There must have been a period of time when Bough was seeing prostitutes and snorting coke, during which he was fronting BBC programmes. Did you notice a decline in his on-screen work? No, me neither. That’s why it came as such a shock that the pullover-ed broadcaster was not your favourite uncle but a man who went in for paid sex and drugs.
In other words, Bough’s sex life and his drug-taking didn’t show at all in his job. Yet he was sacked – and his career torpedoed – for using prostitutes and cocaine. Spending time with prostitutes is not illegal in most cases. Taking cocaine is. But Bough was never charged with any crime. Like the rest of us, he was innocent until proved guilty in a court of law. Which he wasn’t. That didn’t stop the BBC firing him.
But there’s a bigger injustice involved here. In medieval times, if enough people could be persuaded that someone was consorting with the devil, they could be executed. In more recent centuries, people like Oscar Wilde were imprisoned for homosexual activities. Because Bough chose to spend time with sex workers and to take cocaine, he was deemed unfit to work in television.
Read that last sentence again. If everyone in the BBC who ever spent time with a prostitute or took illegal drugs were to be fired, they’d probably be reduced to a skeleton staff.
I have said this so often before I’m beginning to think I should make an all-purposes comment, and slot it when called for: everyone should be judged on their ability to do the job they’re paid for and on nothing else. Frank Bough was just another in a long, long line of gifted people who’ve been deprived of their livelihood because the public thought their private life should be made public and on those stupid, spurious, salacious grounds they should be fired.
Rest in peace, Frank. The bastards can’t harm you any more.