Writer David Mathieson has had a friendly chat with Jonny Bucknell, who says 'you can't be too precious about these things'
Published: 3 November, 2016
By RICHARD OSLEY
AS the first DIY expert to appear on live television, 1950s home improvement guru Barry Bucknell may have been forgiven for uttering a curse or two when things didn’t go completely to plan.
But Mr Bucknell’s family have been left confused by a new book which names him as the first person to use a four-letter expletive on TV, insisting that he hardly ever swore and was actually a bit too “posh” for vulgar language.
In Radical London In The 1950s, writer David Mathieson recalls how Mr Bucknell combined a life as a Labour councillor on the old St Pancras Council with work as a presenter of BBC shows offering household decorating tips.
“The results were sometimes calamitous as his constructions collapsed or the wallpaper sagged. Normally, these disappointments were met with cheery stoicism and chippy ‘well – that’s not the way to do it’,” Mr Mathieson wrote of Mr Bucknell. “Frustration and irritation with mishaps did occasionally surface, however, and this led him to another pioneering moment: he was the first person to use a four-letter word on TV when he exclaimed ‘c*nt’ as a miss-hit nail went flying.”
The report that Mr Bucknell used such language will be a surprise to his viewers who often recall him as a family-man figure, and also to fans of the publisher Felix Dennis, who has hithertho gained notoriety for being the first person to drop the c-word while television cameras were rolling.
“I’d have to dispute that,” said Mr Bucknell’s son, Jonny, who also became a councillor, although for the Tories rather than Labour. “We never heard him swear like that, if anything he was a bit posh. And if he didn’t swear at home, I don’t think he would at work.
“The worst he would ever say was ‘bugger’, very occasionally if something went wrong, but I can’t imagine on the show because they were meticulously planned.
“I remember being at home and my mother would be timing what he would do to the extent where she’d have a stopwatch and say, ‘Buck, you are going to have to do that 30 seconds quicker’. And things still went wrong sometimes, and that’s why nobody will film it ‘live’ again.”
Nine years ago, a spoof film appeared on YouTube in which a prankster dubbed pretend commentary including the c-word into a clip of Mr Bucknell fixing a chair. The same YouTube user had manipulated footage of other television programmes, including Delia Smith’s cookery show, to make it look like she was explaining how to make deep-fried Mars bars.
Cllr Bucknell, whose father passed away aged 91 in 2003, said he would not be pushing for corrections or book-pulpings, but was worried that the video had been the problem and had somehow become used in obituaries.
“I think a mistake has probably been made here, but we all make them,” he said. “We talked briefly about asking YouTube to take that film down but decided in the end that you can’t be too precious about these things.”
Mr Mathieson and Cllr Bucknell had an amicable conversation this week and there are no hard feelings.
“I stand by what I wrote but Jonny will know what his father was like best and it was not my intention to dishonour Barry Bucknell’s memory,” said Mr Mathieson.
“We can talk about whether he said the c-word or didn’t say the c-word, but we are going back 60 years. What I wrote about Barry in the book and the other people on the council at the time was actually meant to be affectionate, because when I think what they did to try and help people after the Second World War, amid the problems they faced, it was quite remarkable.”
Mr Dennis – the former Oz publisher who died two years ago – has previously been named as the first person to say the c-word on television during an invasion of a live studio debate show by counter-culture protesters in which he used the word before squirting host David Frost with a water pistol in 1970.
A debate over who used the f-word first on television often leads to Kenneth Tynan’s shock use of it on the BBC in 1965, although the view that this was the first time is often disputed.