THE BBC has apologised to Japan for an episode of the comedy quiz QI in which Stephen Fry joked about an old man who survived both the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The BBC and Talkback Thames, the company that produces QI, issued a joint statement of apology, which was reported on Japan’s evening television news bulletins last night after the joke angered many Japanese, including survivors of the atomic bombings.
The item, broadcast in December, concerned Tsutomu Yamaguchi, who died a year ago at the age of 93. Gravely injured by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, he made his way by train to his home in Nagasaki, where three days later he was exposed to the second bomb.
Although he lived to a great age, Yamaguchi’s son, who was an infant at the time of the bombing, died of radiation-related cancer, along with many of his friends and neighbours. There were a few dozen other double “hibakusha”, as victims of the bomb are called, but none articulated the experience with Yamaguchi’s dignity and fervour. He composed poems and created paintings about the bombing, and travelled to New York to plead for nuclear disarmament. “I think [my survival] is a miracle,” he told The Times on the 60th anniversary of the bombings in 2005. “But having been granted this miracle it is my responsibility to pass on the truth to the people of the world.”
Fry, the host of QI, joked as he told Yamaguchi’s story. Dressed in a Hawaiian shirt, and garlanded with flowers, he made the audience laugh as he said: “He’s either the luckiest because he survived an atom bomb twice, or the unluckiest.”
One of his guests, the comedian Rob Brydon, said: “Is the glass half-full or is it half-empty? Either way, it’s radioactive, so don’t drink it.”
Other members of the panel joked about the efficiency of the Japanese railway system, which resumed service the day after an atomic bombing.
Speaking on the 9 o’clock news on NHK, Japan’s equivalent of the BBC, Yamaguchi’s daughter, Toshiko, said: “I cannot forgive the atomic bomb experience being laughed at in Britain, which has nuclear weapons of its own. I think this shows that the horror of atomic bomb is not well enough understood in the world. I feel sad rather than angry.”
On January 7, Ken Okaniwa, Minister at the Japanese Embassy in London, sent a letter of complaint to the BBC and Talkback Thames.
“We realise that they were not mocking Mr Yamaguchi so much as the British rail system,” Daisuke Tsuchiya, a spokesman for the embassy, told The Times. “But it was totally inappropriate and insensitive to refer to his experience in this sort of programme.”
A joint statement by the organisations said: “We are sorry for any offence caused. QI never sets out to cause offence with any of the people or subjects it covers, however, on this occasion, given the sensitivity of the subject matter for Japanese viewers, we understand why they did not feel it appropriate for inclusion in the programme.”