BBC defends Graham Norton after ‘distasteful’ Ukraine joke: ‘No subject off limits’

The BBC has defended Graham Norton after he made a joke about Ukraine on his chat show, insisting that “no subject is off limits”.

The comedian received complaints on social media from viewers after he joked that Ukraine could soon be “south-west Russia”.

While talking about Boris Johnson’s trip to Kyiv on his February 4 show, Norton said: “This week, he flew off to Ukraine – or if you’re watching on catchup TV, he flew off to south-west Russia.”

Several viewers criticised the joke as being insensitive towards Ukrainians, who are currently under threat from a potential Russian invasion.

One Twitter user said: “What a distasteful, insulting joke when there are people dying in Ukraine, fighting against a Russian incursion.

“Shame on Graham Norton – this is in such bad taste.”

Another said: “While Ukrainians fight for their lives Graham Norton makes jokes about it?

“I’m just praying that you and your team will never have to go through such horrendous things.”

The BBC has defended Graham Norton after he joked about Ukraine on his chat show

The BBC has defended Graham Norton after he joked about Ukraine on his chat show (Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images for BFI)

In response, a statement from the BBC said Norton did not intend to cause offence.

As reported by The Times, the statement read: “We appreciate the seriousness of the current situation there and can assure you there was no intention to cause any offence with these remarks.

“Comedy is one of the most subjective areas of programming and while no subject is off limits we appreciate that some jokes may resonate differently for those with personal experience of a particular situation.”

Ukraine and Russia have been at war with each other since 2014, but there are fears that conflict could spill over after Russia deployed tens of thousands of troops to its border with Ukraine in late January. 

Both the UK and the US have evacuated embassy staff from Kyiv, while Western allies are drawing up sanctions against Russia if the state does invade Ukraine.

Prime minister Boris Johnson said: “We are on an edge of a precipice but there is still time for president Putin to step back.

“We’re urging everybody to engage in dialogue and for the Russian government to avoid what would be a disastrous mistake for Russia.”

Ukrainian activists have stated that they will try their hardest to fight, amid fears that in the event of a Russian invasion, progress on LGBT+ rights could be stripped back.

Lenny Emson, director of Kyiv Pride, told PinkNews that LGBT+ people, and wider Ukrainian society, is prepared to “step forward against the aggression” if the need arises.

“On this point we are united,” Emson said. “It doesn’t matter what your gender identity is, your sexual orientation – all together, we are stepping forward.”