BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in: UK
Front Page 
Northern Ireland 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Friday, 31 August, 2001, 14:20 GMT 15:20 UK
TV's top 10 tantrums
The studio fisticuffs between Lennox Lewis and Hasim Rahman may have caught everyone off-guard, but moments like this are televisual gold dust, writes BBC News Online's Chris Horrie.

TV "blooper" shows in the mould of It'll be Alright on the Night and Auntie's Bloomers have long been audience favourites.

Simple mistakes by presenters and stars are funny enough, but when the punches start flying you are into "super blooper" territory - the televisual equivalent of gold dust.


1. Desmond Leslie floors Bernard Levin with vicious right hook, BBC 1963
2. Johnny Rotten gives Bill Grundy the verbals, ITV, 1977
3. Grace Jones bashes Russell Harty, ITV, 1980
4. Denis Thatcher berates Nationwide team in hospitality suite, BBC, 1983
5. Sue Lawley harrassed by militant lesbians while reading the news, BBC, 1984
6. Rod Hull and hand puppet Emu set about Michael Parkinson, BBC
7. Bee Gees "do a John Nott" on Clive Anderson show, BBC
8. John Nott "does a Bee Gees" on BBC, 1982
9. Tracey Emin walks off arts review show
10. Oliver Reed does likewise

OK, there's Jerry Springer and his cast of deranged, chair-throwing studio guests. But a genuine, unscripted and unexpected studio scrap is much more rare.

In the early years of TV, studio security was something of a joke, which paved the way for a classic early super blooper.

In 1963, the Irish writer Desmond Leslie - enraged by a nasty review of his wife's latest play - was able to infiltrate the audience of David Frost's studio discussion show, march up to offending reviewer Bernard Levin and land a superb left hook on his nose in front of 11 million viewers.

"Just a minute Mr Levin, this will only take a minute," Leslie had said with impeccable politeness before unleashing a blow described by The Times as "the most public punch since Sonny Liston took the heavyweight title from Floyd Patterson".

Come and have a go...

After this security was tightened up and on-screen fighting became more difficult.

Kilroy Silk
Ex-amateur boxer Robert Kilroy-Silk
In 1998, the newspaper columnist AA Gill was reduced to moaning in print that he had wanted to punch Robert Kilroy-Silk live on air.

Instead, Gill claims that an altercation took place soon after, at a party.

Gill says "Kilroy-Silk told me: 'Outside, you big poof. I used to box at university,'" recalled Gill.

"Well, what would you do? I told him to f*** off, turned my back and went on talking about there being nothing on television."

Amazing Grace

Chat-shows like Kilroy-Silk's nevertheless remain the main targets for TV pugilists.

Grace Jones
Packed a punch: Grace Jones

Performer Grace Jones's attempt to beat up Russell Harty live on TV in 1981 (she was provoked when the presenter apparently turned his back on her) has become a TV legend, second only to the Sex Pistol's confrontation with presenter Bill Grundy in 1977.

The Pistols' Johnny Rotten, too unhealthy looking to land a proper punch, instead let his tongue do the fighting.

After Grundy had jokingly flirted with punk singer Siouxsie Sioux, the Pistols' Johnny Rotten repeatedly swore at him live on air.

Once a tosser...

More recently chat show presenter Clive Anderson almost came to blows with the Bee Gees after revealing - without prior warning - that in the 1960s the group had been called Les Tosseurs.

Bee Gees
"Well you can tell by the way I use my walk..."

"Well you'll always be tossers to me," sneered Anderson, causing the Aussie disco kings to storm off in a huff.

The dramatic, angry walk-off - often followed by something very close to a punch-up off stage - is a favourite of politicians as well a showbiz celebs.

In 1983, Mrs Thatcher's husband Denis treated the producer of a BBC TV phone programme to a memorable finger-jabbing session in the entertainment suite after deciding his wife had been "stitched up by bloody BBC poofs and Trots" during a discussion of the Falklands War.


And when former defence minister John Nott disgustedly walked off the set of an interview with the late Robin Day - throwing his lapel mic to the floor with a satisfyingly violent electronic thud - he started a tradition that came to be known as "doing a John Nott".

John Nott
John Nott: Started a trend

The technique has since been used by figures as diverse as Tracey Emin, Oliver Reed and - on radio rather than TV - Neil Kinnock.

The then Labour leader halted a recorded interview on Radio 4, yelling at the interviewer that he was "not going to sit here and be bloody kebabed," before stomping off.

The studio punch up between Lewis and Rahman will doubtless join the great TV moments hitlist. But thankfully there is still some way to go before television descends to the depths portrayed in Sidney Lumet's cult movie Network.

In the film a chat show host is shot live on air, in a stunt to boost ratings.

Chat show slapping
Grace Jones sets about Russell Harty
Thatcher's Belgrano grilling
The interview that led to an altercation with Denis
See also:

31 Aug 01 | Boxing
Rahman blames Lewis for TV rumble
Links to more UK stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more UK stories