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Brand resigns as BBC takes action over abusive broadcast

  • Story Highlights
  • BBC suspends two of its biggest stars in row over abusive phonecall broadcasts
  • Stars rang veteran actor and made lewd comments about granddaughter
  • Brand is known to U.S. as host of MTV awards, movie "Forgetting Sarah Marshall"
  • Row, on which even UK PM has commented, is latest to hit state-funded broadcaster
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) suspended one of its best-known stars while another resigned Wednesday for broadcasting a series of "gross" and abusive telephone calls.

Comedian Russell Brand, 33, and talk show host Jonathan Ross, 47, 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 show earlier this month.

When it dawned on the pair that Sachs -- who played a Spanish waiter in John Cleese's 1970s TV comedy "Fawlty Towers" -- 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.

In a statement Brand said he took "complete responsibility" for the incident. "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," he said.

He added: "I got a bit caught up in the moment and forgot that, at the core of the rude comments and silly songs, were the real feelings of a beloved and brilliant comic actor and a very sweet and big-hearted young woman."

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

At one point Brand sings: "I said some things I didn't of oughta, like I had sex with your granddaughter."

The following week Brand offered a lighthearted on-air apology, in which he said the calls were "funny."

But by then the calls had been reported by other UK media, resulting in more than 15,000 messages of complaint to the BBC by Wednesday.

On Monday UK Prime Minster Gordon Brown called the stars' actions "inappropriate and unacceptable," the UK's Press Association reported, while Conservative opposition leader David Cameron questioned how the show, which was pre-recorded, had been broadcast in the first place.

And in a statement Wednesday, Mark Thompson, director general of the BBC, announced the stars' suspension and 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."

"BBC audiences accept that, in comedy, performers attempt to push the line of taste. However, this is not a marginal case," Thompson said.

"It is clear from the views expressed by the public that this broadcast has caused severe offence and I share that view."

The incident is now being investigated by the BBC as well as UK media watchdog Ofcom. Both stars made more apologies to Sachs today and yesterday.

Baillie, 23, who is a member of a dance troupe called The Satanic Sluts, told The Sun newspaper Wednesday that she had had a relationship with Brand and called for the BBC to sack both him and Ross.

"Russell Brand has embarrassed me by making a private relationship very public in the cruelest way imaginable," she told The Sun.

Brand came to international attention earlier this year playing a rock star in the movie "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," which took $63 million in the U.S. and more than $40 million overseas. He is set to star alongside Adam Sandler and Courteney Cox in the movie "Bedtime Stories, " released in the U.S. on Christmas Day.

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

Ross, who PA alleges has an estimated $9 million-per-year contract with the BBC, is the broadcaster's highest paid entertainer. As well as having his own weekly radio show, he also hosts a late night chatshow, presents the corporation's main movie program and compares the BAFTAs, the UK equivalent of the Oscars.

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

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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