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Showmen’s Guild makes formal complaint to BBC about “rusty screws” comment

John Thurston, president of The Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain, has made a formal complaint to the BBC about comments made by Sara Cox on her radio show this Tuesday, 15 March.

In addition to the formal complaint, he has also written to the producer of The Sara Cox Show, Louise Molony, bringing both her and Sara’s attention to the matter.

The segment of the show had the theme: “Sara wonders what’s the most random, rickety ride you’ve ever ridden on. Was it a camel, a unicycle or a clapped out bus. Let her know!”

Sara commented, in response to a listener’s reported experience of a ride in an amusement park: “That’s the thing with small local fairs isn’t it, their rollercoasters and rides are held together by rusty screws, Blu Tack and crossed fingers”.

Whilst acknowledging that the comment was “no doubt intended to be light-hearted, humorous and irreverent”, the President stated that it was “an unnecessary, factually wrong, defamatory comment, regarding fairgrounds”.

The President’s letter states: “The reality is that fairs / fairgrounds are run by Showmen and Showwomen who are, for the most part, small business people who operate within a highly regulated and strictly controlled environment; with detailed regulation from both the HSE and each council within every area that they operate in.

“Additionally (for 95% of them) fairs are very strictly regulated by detailed rules and procedures on safety, as well as all other matters of operation enforced by membership of the Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain.

“There is also the HSE accredited safety scheme ADIPS (https://adips.co.uk/) which works in a similar way to the vehicle MOT system with DVLA as it requires mandatory annual checks.

“The remaining 5% of Showmen and Showwomen also work within this tightly controlled regulatory framework with three smaller trade associations.

“Showmen and Showwomen have worked hard to present their fairs to the public for generations and are rightly proud of this, as well as their safety record: the Fairground Industry gives approximately 305 million passenger rides annually, the HSE calculating that the risk of being injured on a fairground ride is 0.0000278%.

“The 2250 operating Showmen and Showwomen, representing families in a community across the UK of 23,000 dedicated to this craft, with their 4270 rides and other attractions, complete with their own dedicated trade newspaper (https://worldsfair.co.uk/) have also worked hard to re-establish their businesses entertaining the public, following the devastating effects of the Covid pandemic.

“They have successfully navigated the complicated restrictions and mitigations, to provide their much appreciated outdoor entertainment, in strictly monitored Covid-secure conditions.

“This has been very challenging both physically and mentally for them; but they are not looking for either sympathy or thanks; preferring to have donated both time and funds, from what little they had, to the NHS at the height of the pandemic.

“Therefore for Sara to make such a casual all-embracing, no holds barred slur, as she did on Tuesday is both devastating for the Showmen and Showwomen with all their efforts in their business and is damaging personally, as an unnecessarily spiteful comment directed at people whom she has never met, in addition to being just plain wrong factually.

“Many of the Showmen’s Guild members have contacted us, straightaway from the original broadcast time and continuously since, to express their horror at what they heard on the mainstream peak-hour show and we know that several of them are individually contacting the BBC as well, to register their disgust.

“Whilst below / attached are the complete details of how safety is managed at fairs in the UK for your reference, I am bringing Sara’s comment and the offence that it has caused, to your attention, as I with all in the industry and community, feel that it was both ill-judged and irresponsible; especially coming via the country’s national broadcaster at the Drivetime peak hour with its high listenership, in addition to later rebroadcasts.

“I cannot help feeling that fairs, along with Showmen and Showwomen are viewed as an easy target, with little chance of any repercussion that alternatively would be expected immediately from other sectors, had the slur been made against them.

“The Showmen’s Guild has existed for 133 years to ensure that the Showmen and Showwomen are not so easily cast aside, nor so casually libelled.

“So, we are asking you to bring this letter to Sara’s attention and to make an on-air statement correcting the record for the Radio 2 audience.”

The formal complaint under the BBC’s complaints process has been acknowledged and the Guild is now awaiting a full response.

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