Ten most complained about pre-watershed TV moments

They say never work with children or animals, but time and time again it has been adults who have struggled to behave during live broadcasts.

Expletive outbursts are rare on our screens, but never fail to light up social media or Ofcom complaint forms, as presenters and guests suffer sweary slip-ups on TV.

Recent research from language experts, Preply, found that the United Kingdom has one of the longest watershed periods of unrestricted viewing globally. Coming second in the World, eight and a half hours of our broadcast media is unrestricted.

However, there have been hundreds of complaints to the broadcast regulator, Ofcom, as television shows struggle to control swearing before the watershed period.

Preply has researched ten of the most complained about swears on TV:

  1. ITV: Britain’s Got Talent – 28th May 2019
    Complaints: 192

    The TV talent show grips the nation every year, but one act – The Haunting – shocked even the judges with their spooky magic show.

    One particular jump-scare prompted judge Amanda Holden to shout the word ‘f**k’ during a live broadcast during the family show before the 9 pm watershed. The show was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing by Ofcom after almost 200 complaints were lodged against them.

  2. ITV: Good Morning Britain – 3rd June 2020
    Complaints: 191

    No stranger to controversy, it comes as no surprise that Good Morning Britain racked up 191 complaints during an early morning interview last year.

    Guest, Adee Phelan, went on a passionate but fruity rant against the government leading him to swear three times just before 7 am. Piers Morgan refused to apologise for his guest’s explicit outburst, which further fueled complaints.

  3. BBC: Comic Relief – 24th March 2017
    Complaints: 150

    Red Nose Day brings a galaxy of stars together to raise funds for those who need it the most.

    The broadcast extravaganza fell foul of regulations in 2017 when the show descended into chaos as Vic Reeves flashed a fake appendage at Susanna Reid and Russell Brand exclaimed ‘f**king hell’ during technical glitches.

    7.6 million viewers tuned in to see the pre-watershed expletives, landing the charity event with 150 complaints and an Ofcom investigation.



    Russell Brand's surprised curse live on tv caused quite a stir.
    Russell Brand’s surprised curse live on tv caused quite a stir.

  4. ITV: Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway – 27th February 2021
    Complaints: 104

    Viewers were thrilled to see Saturday Night Takeaway return in a Covid-secure way to brighten up our weekends in lockdown.

    However special guest announcer, Gordon Ramsay, is well known for his swearing rants and outbursts. While the hosts joked they had a bleep button prepared for his stint on the show, a couple of explicit words managed to slip the net.

    As well as insulting a guests teeth, Gordon let slip the word ‘p**s’ while trying to say ‘pizza’ – an easy mistake to make.

  5. ITV: The BRIT Awards – 20th February 2019
    Complaints: 57

    There is no live broadcast more rock n’ roll than the annual BRIT awards ceremony, and Ofcom complaints over the years have cemented this.

    Aside from Adele’s explicit acceptance speech in 2016, it was Lily Allen and Lewis Capaldi who landed the award ceremony in regulatory hot water. With references to drugs and several varieties of swear words, the 2019 show earned itself 57 complaints.



    Brits winner Lewis Capaldi with his awards for British Album of the Year and Best New Artist
    Brits winner Lewis Capaldi with his awards for British Album of the Year and Best New Artist

  6. BBC: Eastenders – 30th July 2015
    Complaints: 30

    As one of the more edgy soaps, Eastenders finds itself on the list of sweary TV moments – even though it is not a live broadcast.

    When the character Carol Jackson visited her brother Max Branning in prison, she used a word that is generally not acceptable before the watershed. Calling him a ‘b*****d’ the quip at 7.58 pm lead to 30 complaints.

  7. ITV: This Morning – 6th March 2019
    Complaints: 26

    ITV’s magazine show This Morning covers everything from lighthearted segments to heavy issues.

    Long-standing presenter, Philip Schofield, is usually the one apologising for his guest’s slip-ups, but he became the subject of 26 complaints during a pancake tossing segment in 2019.

    Letting out the word ‘s**t’ when his pancake skills let him down, co-host Holly Willoughby was forced to scold him for his language.



    Philip Schofield and Holly Willoughby
    Philip Schofield and Holly Willoughby

  8. ITV: Loose Women – 21st July 2021
    Complaints: 21

    Loose Women is a stalwart of lunchtime TV programming, offering viewers lively debate and an insight into the lives of the show’s panellists.

    The programme proved how lively debates can get earlier this year when Linda Robson accidentally let a swear word slip well ahead of the watershed.

    During the summer heatwave, Linda admitted she couldn’t be ‘a**ed’ to work and was left red-faced at the gaffe. It landed the show with 21 complaints yet further action wasn’t taken by Ofcom.

  9. ITV: Euro 2016 France v Romania – 10th June 2016
    Complaints: 20

    Football brings out passion and emotion in many people, including the commentators.

    While covering the Euros in 2016, the then-West Ham boss Slaven Bilic suffered a live TV gaffe as he swore while covering the France v Romania game.

    His sweary slip-up came just two minutes before the watershed began. While many on social media saw the funny side, not everyone was impressed. Bilic’s explicit commentary landed the coverage with 20 Ofcom complaints.

  10. ITV: Jeremy Kyle – 18th January 2016
    Complaints: 2

    Gone but certainly not forgotten, The Jeremy Kyle Show ran for 15 years before being axed.

    The show featured guests from around the UK airing their grievances with loved ones, however, one guest’s accent lead to an Ofcom investigation for the pre-recorded programme.

    A Scottish guest used the word “c***” – deemed one of the most offensive words by the broadcast regulator – yet due to the guest’s accent, it wasn’t picked up in editing and aired in January 2016.

    After an investigation by Ofcom, the slip-up was found to be human error and the show wasn’t penalised.



    The Jeremy Kyle Show
    The Jeremy Kyle Show

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