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BBC's top star loses $2.4 million in phone call row

  • Story Highlights
  • BBC scandal arose over series of phone calls by TV stars to veteran actor
  • BBC's highest paid star, Jonathan Ross, suspended for 3 months without pay
  • BBC radio boss Lesley Douglas stands down over abuse calls after inquiry
  • Comedian Russell Brand resigned from his radio show Wednesday
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- The BBC's highest-paid celebrity has lost more than $2 million after being suspended without pay for a series of abusive telephone calls made by himself and another of the broadcaster's stars.

Talk show host Jonathan Ross, 47, and comedian Russell Brand, 33, have been at the center of a row after they attempted to contact comedy actor Andrew Sachs for an interview on Brand's weekend Radio 2 show this month.

Ross, who the UK's Press Association reports has a £6 million ($9.7 million) contract with the broadcaster, was suspended from all broadcasting for 12 weeks Thursday after the BBC Trust, the sovereign body of the organization, met to discuss the calls.

"[Ross] will not be paid by the BBC during this period. The fees that would have been paid will be deducted from his BBC contract," Mark Thompson, director general of the BBC, said in a statement.

The suspension will cost Ross £1.5 million ($2.43 million). He is now believed to be in Wales with his brother Paul, a fellow broadcaster.

Thompson added, "Jonathan Ross's contribution to this edition of the Russell Brand show was utterly unacceptable and cannot be allowed to go uncensored or without sanction."

Earlier Thursday, Lesley Douglas, controller of BBC Radio 2, 6 Music and Popular Music, stood down from her role and offered a "personal apology to Sachs and his family and to the audience for what has happened," the BBC said.

The prank calls row has also claimed the scalp of Brand, who resigned Wednesday.

Ross and Brand called Sachs -- who played a Spanish waiter in John Cleese's 1970s TV comedy "Fawlty Towers" -- but when it dawned on them that he was not around, they left a series of messages on the veteran actor's phone, joking about Brand's sexual relationship with Sachs' granddaughter Georgina Baillie, 23.

During the series of phone calls, made October 18, the pair also joked that Sachs might kill himself on hearing the news -- then attempted to apologize with further abusive calls.

Ross also has his own weekly radio show, hosts a late-night chat show, presents the broadcaster's main movie review program and comperes the BAFTAs, the UK equivalent of the Oscars.

In a statement Wednesday Brand said that he was resigning and that he took "complete responsibility," adding, "as I only do the radio show to make people laugh I've decided that, given the subsequent coverage, I will stop doing the show."

Brand came to international attention this year playing a rock star in the movie "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," which took more than $100 million worldwide. His next film, "Bedtime Stories," in which he stars with Adam Sandler, is released in the U.S. on Christmas Day.

In September, Brand hosted the MTV Video Music Awards, during which he called President Bush a "retarded cowboy" and joked about boy band the Jonas Brothers losing their virginity.

By Thursday, the BBC had received more than 35,000 messages of complaint, PA reported, although the BBC said it only received two complaints at the time of the original broadcast.

In a statement Wednesday, Thompson offered an unreserved apology to Sachs, his family and the British public for what he termed a "gross lapse of taste" and a "severe offence." The media watchdog Ofcom is also investigating the incident.

The BBC Trust has also ordered the to make an on-air apology for what it called "serious and deliberate breaches" of the broadcaster's guidelines.

Baillie, who is a member of a dance troupe called The Satanic Sluts, commented on the pair's suspension to The Sun newspaper: "I'm thrilled because justice has been done."

The row is the latest to hit the state-funded BBC, which is supported through an annual fee paid by TV owners and often comes under scrutiny from other sections of the media.

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In July, the BBC became the latest UK broadcaster to be punished over misleading viewers about phone-in competitions on TV and radio and was fined £400,000 ($600,000) by media regulators.

More famously, it clashed with the UK government in 2003 over claims that Downing Street's WMD dossier on Iraq had been doctored.

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