Funography Watch. Programme makers fight back!

September 23, 2007

A few days ago, I linked to a clip from a BBC program entitled The
Truth About Food
in which (not to beat about the bush)
women drank sperm from test tubes and then described the taste. I
didn’t really know what to say about it, because I was so stunned, and
the implications seemed so enormous. To my mind,
if you can show women drinking sperm from test tubes, and pass it off
as quite a light hearted, ‘educational’ experiment, then British
television has turned into something very ugly indeed. Let me put it this way, if anything
worse is around the corner, I don’t want to turn the corner.

I’ve sent the clip to quite a few people (including a BBC executive)
and everyone has expressed utter disgust and amazement that the thing
managed to get broadcast. I was interested to see what would happen if
I actually complained, so I did.

I went to the BBC site and asked whether there had been a change in guidelines regarding sperm-eating on the BBC. Then I ticked the box that said I required a response.

Here it is, with my notes.

Dear Mr Linehan

Thank you for your e-mail regarding ‘The Truth about Food’. I note that you found certain footage to be offensive.

Yes, the sperm-eating. (They can show it on television, but they can’t bring themselves to write it down.)

It has to be noted that all programmes must pass our stringent editorial guidelines, so none of our rules were broken in regards to the footage itself.

Any set of guidelines that allows sperm-eating in any form cannot be described as ‘stringent’. Perhaps the truth is that the guidelines haven’t quite caught up with the cynicism of some producers. Perhaps there needs to be a review of these “stringent” guidelines in the light
of the fact that demented JG Ballard characters are now making television programmes?

A spokesperson for the production team has issued the following response:

‘We apologise if this story offended you. It formed part of a wide investigation by BBC Science into the way food affects all aspects of sex and sexuality – for post-watershed transmission only. The story wascarefully set-up at the beginning of the programme, giving viewers the option not to watch if they felt they were likely to be offended.

The warning before programmes like this one is the funography badge of honour, and it appears before so many shows that it has become meaningless. A warning can mean you’re about to watch something edgy and brilliant (like ‘The Sopranos’) or the most moronic and grim thing
you’ve ever seen, like this. A punch in the face is always a punch in the face, no matter what kind of notice you receive before you get it. Maybe the warning on these types of shows could in future read “This programme was made by cynical pricks .”

We decided to include the piece during the research phase of the project when we discovered a commonly held belief that what men eat can affect the taste of their semen. Some people claim (for example, see reference 1) that pineapple and parsley improve the taste, while meat, dairy produce and asparagus do the opposite.

Ahhhh, forgive me, if I had known the idea had come about during the exalted “research phase” …How, pray, was this research conducted? I know you didn’t use Google because if you had written in ‘sperm-eating’, you wouldn’t have stopped masturbating long enough to make the show.

“Research phase”. Puh-leese. You and I know that the research phase involved you and the monkeys you made the show with sitting around in the office trying to make each other laugh (an easy gig, if ever there was one).

If you think I’m being harsh here, consider for a moment what this section of the letter is doing. They just said they were sorry if I was offended, and now they’re providing me with lots of loving detail on sperm-eating. Basically, they’re making fun of me for having the temerity to write, and the BBC are colluding with them by forwarding the letter. Way to “restore trust“, guys!

This idea seemed like a good place to start an investigation. If we could find evidence that this is true, it would provide an unusual and memorable illustration of the fact that ‘you are what you eat’.

Here, they’re just trying to break my contempt-o-meter.

It is known that molecules associated with food flavour do pass into bodily fluids. Several studies into children’s flavour preferences, for example, confirm that
complex food molecules pass directly from mother to foetus. In one study, children whose mothers ate garlic during pregnancy were far more likely to take to garlic as they grew up (e.g. Schaal2, 2000). The same happens for children whose mothers eat foods with strong flavours when breastfeeding (e.g. Mennella3, 2001).

Furthermore, experiments into the effects of vitamin E and the mineral selenium supplements on semen quality (e.g. Vezina4, 1996) on sperm motility found that levels of these micronutrients in semen increased when supplements were taken.

Given the above it seems reasonable to investigate the possibility that flavour-carrying molecules can make it into semen.

Let me summarise the above…”Breast-milk contains food molecules that
affect their children’s eating habits. So we thought we’d show you some
women eating sperm.”

Incidentally, there are several products available that are designed to improve the
flavour of semen. One of them is even the subject of a US patent. That product’s manufacturers claim 98.5 per cent customer satisfaction. This product has been featured previously on television.

Wow. Again, they’re just making fun of me here. “That product’s
manufacturers claim 98.5 per cent customer satisfaction.” Tee hee!


(Can you believe this?)

1. One of many websites dedicated to this subject:


2. Schaal, B, Marlier, L. and Soussigan, R. (2000) Human Foetuses Learn
Odours from their Pregnant Mother?s Diet (Chem Senses) 25:729-737, 2000.

3. Mennella, J. A., Jagnow, C. P., Beauchamp, G. K. (2001) Prenatal and
Postnatal Flavour Learning by Human Infants (Paediatrics) Vol. 107. No.

4. Vezina D, Mauffette F, Roberts KD, Bleau G. (1996)
Selenium-vitamin E supplementation in infertile men. Effects on semen
parameters and micronutrient levels and distribution (Biological trace
element research).’

What are these meant to prove? Nothing. It’s just more fun at my expense. It does accidentally prove that the contempt they feel for the viewer is not simply a vague, general contempt, but one that can be refined and tailored for individuals.

Public service broadcasting that hates the public. Haven’t you heard? It’s the new thing!


  1. Yech.

    As for things that are actually entertaining – YOU HAD MOSS MEET THE GERMAN CANNIBAL! I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time. Season 2, episode 3 is brilliant (“He’s his own brother. They’re all ghosts.”)

  2. so they’re saying this was an area that needed researching, ok – but was there any need/demand to show it on TV?!

    ‘stringent editorial guidelines’ haha

  3. God, I wonder what doesn’t get past the guidlines?

  4. In the eighties, when I was a hormonal teenager I happened across a very dry feminist documentary where women were squatting over mirrors (after preparing the area with a Vaginal Speculum no less) so they could inspect their reproductive organs.

    I don’t know if it was on the BBC or ITV, and it could in no way be descibed as “Funography”, but it was just as stomach churning as the sperm-eating thing (obviously the teenage me thought it was great, it was only in retrospect that it haunted me!).

    It was so gross and so deadpan that if the BBC chose to air it again they wouldn’t know whether to put it on BBC3 or BBC4.

  5. Your analysis of their reply was brilliant. What do you make of the whole Blue Peter Catgate thing, Graham? I wouldn’t be surprised if the fans voted for ‘Pussy’. Apparently BP have got a new moggy proudly carrying the actual winning name of Cookie.

    The image at the top of your post made me giddy with excitement – I thought Look Around You was back!

  6. The BBC are pretty useless with their complaints. They always give fairly lengthy, personalised replies which end up saying absolutely nothing besides “tough shit, there’s nothing we can do”.

  7. Come on now, Graham. We all knew it was a only a matter of time until there was sperm eating on the IT Crowd. Get with the program!


  8. Has anyone looked at the BBC’s “stringent guidelines”? They’re nothing of the sort. Basically it’s just a lot of stuff like “use of guns in children’s programmes should be carefully thought about”. I mean, they’re fair enough as far as they go, and a set of hard and fast rules would probably just be silly, but we can be sure there’s nothing whatsoever about sperm-eating written down, since the Reithian fogeys who wrote the guidelines would never have dreamed that anybody would be c**t enough to try to get away with a meaningless science experiment on the subject. So these guidelines, which basically add up to a polite suggestion that programme-makers should act responsibly, think, and exercise taste in making shows, have now been debased to the level of all-purpose alibi for whenever somebody does something disgusting.

  9. Oh Jesus, what a shower of bastards. Few points:
    I don’t expect BBC Science to carry out experiments, in the same way that I don’t want to see Top Gear presenters risk their lives for a World Record. I wish them to report on science breakthroughs maybe and to make complex terms understandable for laymen. I expect experiments to happen in laboratories with top notch scientists if they need doing, not in some hotel room with four tick boxes and a test tube.
    Scientists (and wine and perfume makers for that matter) use a mechanical “nose” to sense aromas, surely they would have used them in a real experiment? As for the taste, wouldn’t some kind of experiment to find molecules present in the foods have sufficed? I’m sorry I don’t do science, I don’t know the terms.
    The bit where the woman tried to prove how much she loved guzzling cum was gratuitous and they must be able to see that. They all looked uncomfortable even though they must set themselves very low standards in life.
    I think it is already known that semen tastes different according to food and drink. Someone on live TV in America once said they put cinnamon in coffee to make it (the semen, not the coffee) taste better. It flew off the shelves apparently.
    The youtube comments are nearly all negative – doesn’t that tell the BBC something?!
    When you put up the Charlie Brooker thing about them shrinking the credits screen to put ads in I complained to the BBC. I think I asked for a response but didn’t get one. On BBC Wales the shrinking has now gone away. Can anyone tell me if it happened in the rest of UK too?

  10. Being American I am used to lots of painful crap on tv. So I was thinking your response, although very funny, was maybe a bit of an over reaction.
    Then I watched the clip.
    I couldn’t even get through it all. What kind of ‘scientific’ exploration was that? It looked like some horrible challenge on The Bachelor. Seriously, what kind of experiment involves prop menus?
    Ugh, I should know better than to doubt a man with such impeccable taste. Next time I’ll listen.

  11. I think you people in Britain should be proud that you have such a forward thinking broadcasting organisation.

    At some point in the future we’ll look back and highlight this program as groundbreaking, much like Anna Friel and that little ginger one having a lesbo kiss was in Brookside that time.

  12. ” Maybe the warning on these types of shows could in future read “This programme was made by cynical pricks .” ”

    …but drank by strange women ;)

    It reminds me of a programme that was shown on ITV a few weeks ago about religion but the Tom Baker narration didn’t exactly lend itself to being taken seriously as a discussion. Then again, seeing that Richard Dawkins appeared to have a giant donkey or rabbit standing at his window while talking didn’t either.

    It would be interesting to know your limit on what gets shown on TV though, Mr. Linehan.

    I mean you’ve, for example, sat at a table dressed as IRA while Alan Partidge gyrated his leather-back crotch around. :P

  13. I suppose this sort of thing is an extension of the TV logic that gives us Gillian McKeith sniffing at the Jurassic Park sized dung of people who think that butter counts as one of their five-a-day.

    An off-topic diversion: I just nearly broke my arse laughing at this clip http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BZ7Ym-W3NwM

  14. well delt with Graham. The world of administrative madness.. Gives ye a headache!

  15. I think it comes down to don’t watch it if you don’t want to, being an American, I have to ignore all kinds of insane nonsense,..lol.

  16. God I haven’t laughed so much in ages! Well, not since I saw Richmond glued to the ceiling in The IT Crowd. Your responses are fab, Graham.

    I think they should have got men to drink the sperm, and see if that got into the programme. Somehow I don’t think it would have…

  17. All the long platitudes of an organization that received a complaint… They managed to sound professional while being idiots. Go figure how that is done.
    It is like “we are sorry that you were offended, but hey , tough luck. By the way, here are some references* for your added vexation”.

    * references are cited to make their response look well thought of, professional and truly investigative :)

  18. All the long platitudes of an organization that received a complaint… They managed to sound professional while being idiots. Go figure how that is done.
    It is like “we are sorry that you were offended, but hey , tough luck. By the way, here are some references* for your added vexation”.

    * references are cited to make it look well thought of, professional and truly investigative :)

  19. […] Linehan (Father Ted, The IT Crowd) found it distasteful and blogged about it. He wrote to the BBC site seeking a response and got one. While I don’t agree on showing such […]

  20. I think that this conversation would have been hilarious had I not seen the video we are talking about. Unfortunately, each time we refer to it, I picture that fat American chick sampling her hubby’s seed like she was tasting fine wine. I think if all 3 ladies were in the same room she would have asked them for their leftovers.

  21. A glorious insight into the mind of a BBC employee.

    BBC Science suck balls.

  22. Perhaps if you could explain what about the clip offended you they could have responded more productively? Just a guess, but was it the sexual undertones of implicitly discussing women giving blowjobs and swallowing semen? Or was your choice of wording with “sperm” intentional and you’re offended by the religious objection to destroying sperm?

    I’m puzzled why you would think discussions of the taste of semen would be any more offensive than discussions of other aspects of sexuality. Or do you think exploring sexual issues has no place on tv?

  23. Have you seen the clip, Gerg? “Sexual undertones”? There’s no undertones here! They’re drinking sperm on camera! How is that an undertone? “Implicitly”? There’s nothing implicit about that!

    Exploring sexual issues is all very well, but make no mistake, that is not what this program is about. Like other shows that purport to have a ‘scientific’ or social value (witness the appalling ‘Sex Doctors’), its real purpose is to titillate. I’m all for titillation, and I’m all for discussion, but bringing the two together is the mark of funography, and funography is ruining television in England at the moment.

    And if I had written all that, i would have received precisely the same response.

    (Oh, and in answer to your ‘catholic’ question, I’m an athiest.)

  24. Ahh. It all puts me in the mind of Sartre: “Hell is other people.”

    I would suggest to Graham to never bring this up again. This seems like exactly the kind of stupid controversy the funography pushers gorge on. And then it becomes a challenge to them for next time.

    Can we have another unicorn chaser, please?

  25. I was wondering if you’d actually met the kind of people in television who conceive or commission programmes like this, since you’re judging them as “cynical pricks”?

    I have, and I’ve got to say, you’re absolutely right. I reckon they mostly work at bottom-feeding indies where the only job satisfaction they can conceive of is defecating on the public and generally contributing to the uglification the the universe. It’s hard to believe, I know, but being in their company is almost as unpleasant as watching their programmes. I could tell you some stories…

  26. I just wanted to be the pedant who points out that a relatively small proportion of semen is actually sperm. For all we know, the men in he clip have all had vasectomies.

  27. […] Funography Watch. Programme makers fight back! « Why, That’s Delightful! Gag master gags (tags: comedy gag) […]

  28. Have you seen the clip, Gerg? “Sexual undertones”? There’s no undertones here! They’re drinking sperm on camera! How is that an undertone? “Implicitly”? There’s nothing implicit about that!

    Actually I haven’t. Your description doesn’t sound so offensive but like much of the crap on television these days (Survivor, Big Brother?!) it doesn’t sound like anything I particularly want to watch either.

    I meant “implied” as in implied blow jobs. I assumed from your choice of the word “drinking” that they were drinking semen from glasses not giving blow jobs on camera.

  29. Funography in the dock?


    Well, kinda…

  30. Am I missing something? Does that exchange essentially say:

    Graham: Hi, BBC. I don’t appreciate seeing women drinking semen in the name of ‘science’.
    BBC: Hi, Graham. We’re sorry you were offended by seeing women drinking semen on our programme. If you would like to find out more about women drinking semen, here is a list of links and references…

  31. I thought it was seminal television.

  32. Good grief. I’m glad I didn’t see the programme in question, not my kind of thing at all and it sounds like it would turn my stomach – but if it had a warning, fair enough. If you choose to ignore that warning, you also choose to waive your right to whinge. Your argument that they have become meaningless is deeply ironic – it is people who complain about the blindingly obvious, along with those who ignore warnings, that necessitate the warnings being on every last thing in the first place.

    You are right about their response, it is nothing more than banal lip-service – but your response to theirs is just puerile. It’s got name-calling, non-sequiturs, putting words in their mouths, ignoring points you don’t like, the whole works. I cannot reconcile that any person who had a hand in something as worship-worthy as Big Train could be so vapid, it really wouldn’t be much of a stretch to caricature this whole thing into a Big Train sketch.

  33. That things should come to this…



  34. Schmoo, I don’t understand your point about warnings. As I said, if a warning is in front of every other program, then warnings become meaningless, surely? And no matter how many warnings I received, I would never have thought that semen-tasting would be the ‘blindingly obvious’ horror to suspect on a show called ‘The Truth About Food’.

    However, I agree with the rest of what you said. I’m a bit embarrassed about the post. I think I fired it off too quickly and let my anger and contempt get the better of me. I just HATE what television is becoming in Britain–it makes me sick to my stomach, and I can’t understand why there isn’t more concern about it. That’s what led me to, as you say, my puerile response. I sort of let them win there.

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