BBC's Tony Hall Responds to Margaret Thatcher Controversy

Although he finds it "distasteful," the company's director general refuses to ban "Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead" from a chart show amid a campaign to popularize the song by critics of the late "Iron Lady."
Luke Macgregor/Reuters

LONDON – BBC director general Tony Hall has stepped into the growing controversy over whether or not the corporation should play "Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead," as sung by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz, on its BBC chart show Sunday evening.

The song is shooting up the British music charts as the death of the former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher sparked a battle between supporters and protestors played out across the U.K. media, new and old, this week.

The song du jour for anti-Thatcher protesters is expected to enter the British music chart top 10 by Sunday, forcing the BBC into a public declaration of intent.

STORY: Margaret Thatcher and the Rise and Fall of the Great British Pop Protest Song

The BBC statement said that while the corporation finds the campaign to get the song to chart "distasteful," it has no intention of banning the record.

Added Hall: "I understand the concerns about this campaign. I personally believe it is distasteful and inappropriate. However, I do believe it would be wrong to ban the song outright as free speech is an important principle and a ban would only give it more publicity."

Hall arrived in the position at the BBC after his predecessor George Entwistle sensationally quit after just 54 days in the job amid the fallout from the Jimmy Savile sex scandal.

The arrival, less than two weeks into the job, said he had spoken "at some length" with the BBC director of radio Graham Ellis and Radio 1 controller Ben Cooper about the issue.

"We have agreed that we won't be playing the song in full, rather treating it as a news story and playing a short extract to put it in context," Hall said.

Cooper said in his blog post on the BBC website that he found the campaign as "distasteful as anyone" and that he had thought "long and hard about how to respond."

He noted that there was "understandable anger" about the campaign but he could not "ignore a high new entry" in a chart show which has been running since the birth of Radio 1 in 1967.