BBC Radio 4 cleared over sexually explicit Fear of Flying adaptation

Listeners complained about graphic sex scenes and offensive language in serial based on Erica Jong’s 1973 bestseller

Radio 4’s daytime adaptation of Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying, complete with uncensored swearing and graphic sex scenes, proved too much for some quarters of middle England.

But media regulator Ofcom has cleared the Radio 4 drama of any breach of broadcasting guidelines despite 14 complaints about the broadcast in the 15 Minute Drama slot after Woman’s Hour last month.

An Ofcom spokesperson said: “We assessed complaints objecting to sexual and offensive language in this radio drama. However, we won’t be pursuing these complaints.
“We took into account that the material was highly contextualised within Woman’s Hour. The content was preceded by a clear warning, and was adapted for radio from a well-known novel.”

The 1973 best-selling novel told the story of a 29-year-old poet’s journey of self discovery, and coined the phrase “zipless fuck” to describe an “absolute pure” sexual encounter.

My response to all this was not (not yet) to have an affair and not (not yet) to hit the open road, but to evolve my fantasy of the Zipless Fuck. The zipless fuck was more than a fuck. It was a platonic ideal. Zipless because when you came together zippers fell away like rose petals, underwear blew off in one breath like dandelion fluff. Tongues intertwined and turned liquid. Your whole soul flowed out through your tongue and into the mouth of your lover.

It was dramatised in five parts for Radio 4 as part of its celebration of women’s literature. It was also discussed on Woman’s Hour, complete with on-air warnings about the programme’s content.

The complaints were assessed by Ofcom but the regulator decided not to proceed with a formal investigation.

Unlike television, radio does not have a 9pm “watershed” where swearing and more violent and explicit material is regarded as more acceptable.

However, the BBC’s guidelines say “scheduling considerations must be taken into account” on radio.

Radio 4 courted controversy two years ago with a new version of Tony Harrison’s expletive laden 1980s poem, V.

But the more high profile instances of swearing on Radio 4 in recent years have tended to be unintentional, such as James Naughtie’s unfortunate rechristening of Jeremy Hunt.

Ofcom investigates Radio 1 and Channel 4

Separately, Ofcom is investigating two instances of swearing on Radio 1 and Channel 4.

The regulator is looking at the use of the word “fuck” in a broadcast of Radio 1’s Live Lounge, presented by Clara Amfo, on 10 February.

It featured an appearance by the the stars of BBC3 comedy People Just Do Nothing, spoof pirate radio station Korupt FM and was branded the “worst Live Lounge in history”.

Ofcom is also looking at Channel 4’s broadcast of the freestyle ski and snowboard event, the Frostgun Invitational, on 27 February, which featured a music track broadcast during an awards ceremony. Both aired before the 9pm watershed.


John Plunkett

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Glenda Jackson to return to acting in BBC Radio 4's Zola adaptation
Former film star and ex-Labour MP to take first screen role in more than 20 years with ‘mash-up’ of novel cycle also starring Robert Lindsay

Mark Sweney

01, Jul, 2015 @8:56 AM

Article image
Fear and loathing of women on the radio

As the recent abuse aimed at Mary Beard shows, the history of women in broadcasting has been one of prejudice, vitriol and fear, says Anne Karpf

Anne Karpf

01, Feb, 2013 @5:59 PM

Article image
War and Peace on Radio 4: a ripping adaptation to grip a hungover nation
Radio 4 has cleared its New Year’s Day schedule to make way for a 10-hour, action-heavy adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s epic novel, starring John Hurt, Simon Russell Beale and Lesley Manville. Listen in 2015 with a brilliantly high-brow binge

Luke Harding

31, Dec, 2014 @12:15 PM

Article image
BBC accused of 'extraordinary' censorship over Radio 4 play Stone
Corporation in firing line after it cut dialogue from drama written by controversial playwright Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti. By John Plunkett

John Plunkett

30, Jan, 2013 @12:37 PM

Article image
BBC Radio 4 rapped over 'cox sackers' on-air comment
Listener complained that email read out during afternoon show contained 'grossly offensive' play on words. By John Plunkett

John Plunkett

15, May, 2013 @11:17 AM

Article image
Radio 4's Aasmah Mir quits amid rumours of Times Radio role
Saturday Live presenter may be in line for position at rival station, according to insiders

Jim Waterson Media editor

25, Apr, 2020 @3:05 PM

Article image
BBC Radio 2 draws record audience as Radio 1 sheds older listeners
Chris Evans and Graham Norton score successes – but Nick Grimshaw loses more than 500,000 over-25s in three months. By John Plunkett

John Plunkett

15, May, 2014 @6:37 AM

Article image
John Humphrys says he's 'over-friendly' – and misses top slot in Radio Times poll
‘Rottweiler of Radio 4’ comes second to in readers’ ballot after Eddie Mair, with Kirsty Young topping women’s list of nation’s favourite voices

John Plunkett

26, Jul, 2016 @5:33 AM

Article image
Terry Wogan voted greatest BBC radio presenter
John Peel and Sue MacGregor second and third in Radio Times poll of leading figures in broadcasting

Graham Ruddick Media editor

25, Sep, 2017 @11:01 PM

Article image
Jarvis Cocker sorted for Radio 4 series
Pulp frontman to host half-hour 11pm show uncovering the stories of the 'befuddled, the banged-up and the bedbound'. By John Plunkett

John Plunkett

05, Mar, 2012 @5:30 PM