Guilty as charged my Lord – by Steve Penk

They really are hounding this radio station and the Australian DJs for their pound of flesh aren’t they?

For over 20 years I have been making Wind Up prank phone calls to people across the world. There are many different types of Wind Ups you can do, first you can call someone who has been nominated by a close friend or family member, someone who knows them very well and knows a subject that will press all the right buttons to get the Wind Up reaction you need, and as a result some great entertainment value for the audience listening at home.

This also serves to defuse the situation afterwards when you explain they were nominated for a wind up by their husband, wife, brother, sister or best friend, resulting in a nice warm friendly conclusion.

The other type of Wind Up is the cold call, nobody knows you’re about to call, you don’t know the person you are calling, and you are literally flying by the seat of your pants.

This was the type of call made by Australian DJs Mel Greig and Mike Christian when they called King Edward VII’s hospital in London, with a terrible impression of The Queen in an attempt to speak to Kate Middleton.

What everyone needs to remember, at the time of this call, this was a big news story, plus Kate was in for nothing major, she was in hospital suffering from ‘morning sickness’ something millions of pregnant women suffer with everyday and I’m not belittling it, I’m simply pointing out it was a trivial matter she was in hospital for, nothing life threatening for her or the baby, almost comical really, my wife simply ate extra strong mints to deal with her heartburn and morning sickness when pregnant with our children, but I suppose when you’re royalty, you simply check into a private hospital for a few days, because you don’t really live in the real world.

On the morning the call was made to the hospital by the DJs, Jacintha Saldanha answered the phone, she spoke 4 words, when asked by Mel (who was pretending to be The Queen) could she speak to Kate her granddaughter, Jacintha simply replied “Oh yes, hold on”

The call was then transferred to the Duchess’ nurse who then spent a further 2 minutes talking to the DJs, who were pretending to be The Queen and Prince Charles.

Both impressions were terrible, but that was part of the fun and the charm of the Wind Up.

Not for one minute when they placed the call did Mel and Mike think anyone in London would believe them, but astonishingly, and comically they did. At this point no real harm had been done.

Nobody could ever have predicted what happened next when 2 days after the call was broadcast in Australia, Jacintha was found dead in her nurses quarters at the hospital, she had died of an apparent suicide by hanging.

Everyone was very quick to push ALL the blame of this tragedy solely onto the radio station and the DJs, but I have a problem with this.

There was no malice involved in this Wind Up, it was harmless fun, even the impressions of The Queen and Prince Charles were like something out of a Carry On film, they were ridiculous, caricature, jokey impressions. At the time I found it odd and uncomfortable how quickly the hospital came out and were keen to push all the blame onto the Australian Radio station, yes it was their fault. Of course this made it all rather convenient for them didn’t it, it immediately helped minimise the extreme embarrassment they must of felt at the time, as the royal hospital, they had failed the most basic levels of security by putting this call through in the first place.

You know what it’s like these days, we live in a world of blame culture, and if someone can pass all the blame to somebody else and take it away from themselves, people do it.

I find it rather odd that nobody has ever questioned how the hospital bosses dealt with Jacintha on that particular day when she put that call through, although again the hospital were a little too quick for my liking to come out and say that neither Saldanha nor the other nurse was disciplined by the hospital. Well of course.

If that’s what they said happened, then I suppose we have no choice but to believe them, do we?

It was reported at the time that Jacintha had left 3 handwritten notes, one of which was directed at her employer, criticizing their handling of events that preceded the prank call, draw your own conclusion.

When I made my Wind Up call to Tony Blair, when he was Prime Minister, I didn’t sit there before I made that call thinking to myself……I wonder if the person who answers the call at 10 Downing Street switchboard has issues?

Will the person who answered the 10 Downing Street switchboard feel so ashamed and embarrassed after putting my call through to Tony Blair, that she will hang herself from a tree in a few days time, of course that thought never crossed my mind, and neither did a similar thought cross the minds of the Australian DJs either.

The call was made as an item within an entertainment based radio show, no malice, no nasty undertones, no hidden agenda, just a bit of lighthearted fun. If we over analyse everything we do in life we would never do anything.

Someone lost a wife, a daughter, a mother, and that is terribly sad, but she was a lady who clearly had issues and what happened with Jacintha was a tragedy nobody could ever have predicted, but to keep on pushing all the blame onto the Australian radio station and DJs is ridiculous and ludicrous.

If the Australian radio station and its DJs broke the law, then I am also guilty as charged for calling Tony Blair, I expect to be arrested and thrown in the tower immediately.

This is a RadioToday Opinion Piece by Steve Penk, who has just launched a YouTube channel featuring some of his new and classic Wind Up phone calls.

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Posted on Wednesday, March 4th, 2015 at 3:04 pm by RadioToday UK

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