The BBC has pulled an episode of This Week from the internet amid worries of a race backlash after host Andrew Neil described co-hosts Diane Abbott and Michael Portillo as the “chocolate HobNob and custard cream of late night telly”.
The political show was broadcast on BBC1 last Thursday, on the same night as BNP leader Nick Griffin’s controversial appearance as a guest on Question Time.
This Week began with Neil poking fun at Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s reluctance to name his favourite biscuit, and making his light-hearted biscuit comparison.
But concerns were raised by a handful of viewers that Neil might have been referring to race – and the episode was removed from the BBC’s iPlayer on-demand service the following evening. A planned repeat of the show was also cancelled.
In general, programmes are available on iPlayer for up to seven days after their original broadcast.
A BBC spokesman said: “Every week the programme begins with Andrew Neil running through some of the political stories of the week.
“He then picks up on one of those stories and uses it to introduce Diane Abbott and Michael Portillo in a light-hearted way.
“On Thursday’s programme Andrew made reference to the story that Gordon Brown was reluctant to name his favourite biscuit during a live web chat with parents from the website Mumsnet.
“It was in this context of Gordon Brown’s biscuit preferences that Andrew introduced Diane and Michael as the ‘chocolate HobNob and custard cream of late night telly’.
“Andrew’s introduction chose two well-known types of biscuit at random but a few viewers have expressed concern that this might have been a reference to race.
“This was certainly not the case and the programme would like to reassure them on this point and apologise if any unintentional offence was caused.
“This Week and the BBC have no wish to upset any member of our audience and so the programme was removed from the BBC’s iPlayer and the programme repeat was cancelled from BBC Parliament.”
The row follows Strictly Come Dancing host Bruce Forsyth’s call for the nation to have more of a sense of humour in the wake of the Strictly Come Dancing race row, which saw Anton Du Beke say off air that his dance partner Laila Rouass looked like a “Paki”.
Conservative MP Anne Widdecombe told the Daily Mail: “The BBC are totally paranoid about some things and utterly dismissive of other incidents.
“I only wish that they would take such a hard line against swearing, rather than things like this.”
Culture committee chairman John Whittingdale MP told the newspaper: “Nobody could seriously believe calling Diane Abbott a chocolate HobNob and Michael Portillo a custard cream to be racist.”