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Last Updated: Sunday, 9 January, 2005, 13:58 GMT
Springer opera draws 1.7m viewers
David Soul as Jerry Springer
Protesters say the show is blasphemous
More than 1.7 million viewers watched Jerry Springer - The Opera on BBC Two on Saturday, despite the objections of protesters.

At least 45,000 people had contacted the BBC to complain about swearing and religious themes in the opera.

Most opera broadcasts attract an audience of about 1 million viewers, a corporation spokesperson said.

In comparison Billy Connolly on BBC One attracted 4.3 million while Ultimate Force on ITV1 drew 5.2 million.

The BBC said on Sunday that it had received 317 calls since the broadcast, more than half of which had been supportive.

Figures showed 28% appreciated the show, 16% were happy it was broadcast, 33% thought it was offensive and 23% though it should not have been broadcast.

The spokesperson said this was a higher than average number of calls in defence of a programme.

The spokesperson also said the BBC stood by its decision to broadcast the controversial musical, which continues to run to packed audience in London's West End.

"We are pleased that a wider audience has been able to see an important piece of contemporary culture," said the spokesperson.

Prosecution

Early indications suggested Jerry Springer - the Opera was watched by twice the number of 16-34 year-olds than normally expected for opera, added the spokesperson.

Meanwhile, Stephen Green, National Director of Christian Voice, a UK-wide prayer group, confirmed on Sunday that his organisation would mount a private prosecution against the BBC.
David Soul as Jerry Springer
David Soul stars as talk show host Jerry Springer

He said: "We will probably bring a private prosecution against them for the common law offence of blasphemy.

"Having seen the thing, if this is not blasphemy, nothing is. There will be nothing sacred if we cannot successfully prosecute the BBC."

Hundreds of Christian protesters rallied outside BBC buildings on Saturday before and during the broadcast.

The show was reported to contain a total of 8,000 obscenities - a total reached by adding every swear word sung by each member of the 27-strong chorus

The Conservatives also joined the attack on the screening, with deputy leader Michael Ancram saying the BBC had a duty to exercise caution.

But a BBC spokesperson said the number was less than 300 and was arrived at "even using the broadest definition of an offensive word".

Director general Mark Thompson, himself a practising Christian, said he believed there was nothing blasphemous in the production and was going out after the watershed with "very, very clear" warnings about strong language.

The National Secular Society defended the BBC's right to screen the programme, urging the BBC not to give in to "religious bullies".

Vice-president Terry Sanderson said: "This organised attack is the latest of a series of attempts by religious interests to control what we can see or say in this country."


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
It has been a big hit on the London stage




SEE ALSO:
Protests as BBC screens Springer
09 Jan 05 |  Entertainment
Springer protests pour in to BBC
06 Jan 05 |  Entertainment
BBC urged to axe Springer opera
05 Jan 05 |  Entertainment
Christ movie tops TV complaints
17 Dec 03 |  Entertainment
Springer success story continues
27 Apr 04 |  Entertainment
Springer opera set for Broadway
27 Apr 04 |  Entertainment


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