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Channel 4 Russian Roulette stunt complaints rejected

LONDON – A magician's televised Russian Roulette stunt, in which he fired a gun with one bullet in at his head, has escaped censure following complaints from viewers that it promoted gun culture and was in bad taste.

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In the Channel 4 special, Derren Brown played a potentially fatal game with the aid of a volunteer, who had been carefully selected by Brown to load the handgun with a single bullet from behind a bullet-proof screen. The remaining five chambers of the Smith & Wesson pistol were empty.

As many as 12,000 people volunteered to load the gun for Brown.

Once loaded, Brown put the pistol to his head and, claiming he was using mind control, pulled the trigger until he believed he had found the live round, at which point he pulled the gun away from his head and shot it into the ground.

Only eight complaints were received about the trailer for the Brown show, and another eight about the programme itself. They were mainly concerned that it was distasteful, made light of suicide and promoted gun use.

The Broadcasting Standards Commission ruled that the stunt had been an illusion, and was part of Channel 4's magic month season. As Brown is a professional magician, viewers would have known it was a trick.

The commission also found that care had been taken not to glamorise guns and, as there was a 15-minute delay on the broadcast, viewers would have been prevented seeing Brown harmed if it had gone wrong.

The stunt was particularly controversial at the time, incurring the wrath of members of the police. It also had to be staged abroad, in Jersey, in order to sidestep strict UK gun laws.

The programme was seen as the ultimate in risk-taking TV and raised concerns that children might copy the stunt, despite the fact it was screened after 9pm.

Since Mark Thompson took over at the helm of Channel 4, the broadcaster has made it its strategy to push the boundaries of risk-taking TV.

One of its earlier attempts to shock was the controversial screening of an autopsy last November by the German Professor Gunther von Hagens, creator of the Body Worlds exhibition of dead bodies, which had been treated to stop them decaying.

The autopsy prompted 130 complaints in the immediate aftermath.

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