BBC Apologizes for Atomic Bomb Jokes

The jokes referred to a Japanese man who survived both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings.

TOKYO – The BBC has offered an apology to Japan for jokes at the expense of a survivor of both atomic bombings, aired in an episode of the QI quiz program in December.

The show asked whether Tsutomu Yamaguchi was the “luckiest man in the world, or the unluckiest,” given that he had been in both Hiroshima and Nagasaki when atomic bombs were dropped.

The show’s celebrity panelists then made jokes, including asking if the bomb had “landed on him and bounced off,” to laughs from the audience.  

Stephen Fry -- the show’s host and former comedy partner of Hugh Laurie -- expressed surprise that the trains were running after an atomic bombing, contrasting it with Britain’s railway system, notorious for coming to a halt in bad weather. The panelists then joked about it being the “right kind of bomb” or “the wrong kind of bomb” – a reference to an infamous official excuse regarding disruption issued by British Rail, that included the line, “the wrong kind of snow.”

Following the broadcast of the popular show – which plays on the general knowledge and intellectual prowess of its panel and host – several Japanese residents in the U.K. complained to the BBC and the Japanese Embassy in London. The embassy sent a letter to the BBC protesting that the show had insulted Yamaguchi and made light of the atomic bombings.   

The BBC and the show’s producers, Talkback Thames, issued a joint statement of apology, "QI never sets out to cause offense with any of the people or subjects it covers. However on this occasion, given the sensitivity of the subject matter for Japanese viewers, we understand why they did not feel it appropriate for inclusion in the programme."

The Nikkei, Japan’s leading business daily, ran an editorial over the weekend entitled, No Excuse For BBC's Mockery Of Atom Bomb Survivor, which suggested, "considering how such a heartless program could run in one of the world's leading countries, we can only conclude that Japan has a lot more work to do to impart the tragedy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to the rest of the international community."

Yamaguchi, badly burned in the first bombing, traveled back to Nagasaki by train, only to be caught in the second bombing three days later. In 2009, he was the first person to be officially recognized as a double A-bomb survivor, a year before his death, aged 93.  

More than 200,000 people died in the bombings and their aftermath.