Media Watchdog Group Investigating Russell Brand's Dirty Prank Calls

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LONDON — Britain's media watchdog said Tuesday it was investigating a series of lewd prank telephone calls made by two celebrities on a BBC radio show.

The calls, by comedian Russell Brand and television personality Jonathan Ross, were broadcast on Brand's radio show.

Brand has built a career on his outlandish image and risque routines, but his calls to 78-year-old actor Andrew Sachs have sparked hundreds of complaints and drawn condemnation in Parliament.

Brand and Ross left a series of messages on the voice mail of the actor, best known for playing Spanish waiter Manuel in 1970s sitcom "Fawlty Towers."

Ross jokingly claimed Brand had slept with Sachs' 23-year-old granddaughter, and the pair discussed how Sachs might hang himself as a result of this news. The pair made further calls in which they ostensibly attempted to apologize but continued to leave lewd messages.

The calls were recorded Oct. 16 and aired on Brand's radio show two days later. The initial broadcast drew few complaints, but the BBC said that by Tuesday the number had reached 4,700.

The BBC has apologized, saying some of the calls' content was "unacceptable and offensive." Ross, 47, and Brand, 33, also have said they are sorry.

Sachs said he was angry "but not half as angry as Georgina," his granddaughter.

"That's where the apology should be directed," he said.

Several politicians have called on the BBC to fire Ross and Brand, who are among the network's most popular broadcasters.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the BBC and regulators now had to decide what action to take.

"This is clearly inappropriate and unacceptable behavior," he said in a statement.

The BBC receives most of its funding through a license fee of almost 140 pounds ($220) levied on every British household with a TV.

On Tuesday, two lawmakers filed a parliamentary motion condemning the phone calls. Labour legislator Andrew Mackinlay and Conservative Nigel Evans said the DJs' "base and vulgar" behavior "diminishes the reputation of the BBC and should not be funded by the license fee."

Telecommunications regulator Ofcom said it would investigate whether the calls breached the broadcasting code, which sets standards for fairness and privacy.

Brand has a burgeoning U.S. profile thanks to film appearances and a job hosting last month's MTV Video Music Awards. He offended some viewers of the awards show by mocking clean-cut pop act the Jonas Brothers and referring to President George W. Bush as "that retarded cowboy fellow."

Ross, who hosts a TV talk show, a movie program and a radio show, is one of the BBC's highest-paid personalities. Last year he signed multi-year-multimillion-dollar deal with the broadcaster.