23-year BBC vet resigns over Brand prank

In addition, Jonathan Ross suspended til mid-January

LONDON -- The fallout from the Russell Brand/Jonathan Ross phone prank saga claimed its first executive scalp Thursday, and will see top-paid TV and radio presenter Ross suspended from BBC airwaves until mid-January.

After a day of crisis meetings between BBC director general Mark Thompson and the BBC's oversight committee, the BBC Trust, it was announced late Thursday that the head of BBC Radio 2, Lesley Douglas, has resigned.

TV and radio host Ross -- reputed to be paid 6 million pounds a year -- will be suspended for 12 weeks without pay.

Brand severed his connections from the BBC 24-hours earlier, saying he was "making people unhappy," and offered "love and contrition" to those he had offended.

In her resignation letter to the director general, Radio 2 boss Douglas said the events of the past two weeks "happened on my watch," referring to the Oct. 18 Radio 2 broadcast in which Brand and Ross left obscene voicemails for "Fawlty Towers" actor Andrew Sachs.

"I believe it is right that I take responsibility for what has happened," the BBC veteran of 23 years said.

Thompson, who had been summoned to meetings with the Trust's editorial standards committee Thursday morning, cutting short his holiday, then faced a meeting of the whole Trust that ran well into the afternoon.

In his first television interview with BBC News on Thursday evening Thompson said that he had not known about the matter until three days ago and was "dismayed" by the BBC's editorial failure to stop the broadcast of the recorded show.

"We have a clear chain of command: Ultimate responsibility lies with producers and editorial managers and controllers," he said.

Thompson said Douglas had been "aware of the program" but "she had not heard the program before transmission."

He also said he had taken the decision to suspend Ross till mid-January, and that the presenter should regard the decision as "a final warning."

"Jonathan Ross' contribution to this edition of the Russell Brand show was utterly unacceptable and cannot be allowed to go uncensured or without sanction. A 12-week suspension is an exceptional step, but I believe it is a proportionate response to Jonathan's role in this unhappy affair," he said in a separate statement.

Earlier in the day the BBC came under criticism for not acting sooner. Former BBC chairman Christopher Bland said the BBC could have saved itself a "media firestorm" had it apologized earlier, while the opposition Conservative party has called for a Parliamentary debate into the BBC's conduct.
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