Jonathan Ross is back - but for good?

Keiron PimIn case you hadn't noticed, Jonathan Ross has been rather quiet of late but tonight sees him return to our screens. KEIRON PIM looks at the shamed star's fall and his future prospects.Keiron Pim

It has been three months since Jonathan Ross was suspended from the BBC following his contribution to Russell Brand's prank phone calls to the actor Andrew Sachs. You probably don't need reminding of the details. So, have you missed him?

Don't all shout 'yes' at once… There's a widespread feeling that we have somehow managed to cope quite well without Ross's blend of lewd wit, sexual harassment of attractive female guests and weird sycophancy towards A-list stars.

But tonight, he will be back on our screens and millions of people are bound to tune in to see how he handles his return.

All we know is that he has agreed to tone down the swearing; otherwise the format is unchanged. In his opening monologue he will have to make some acknowledgement of the fact that he has been absent and, one assumes, apologise for his remarks.


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If he's too contrite then it will seem insincere, as we know that he doesn't really do contrition; bumptious self-confidence is a large part of the persona that has maintained a 20-year television career.

But if he makes light of the matter or doesn't seem sufficiently aware that he overstepped the mark then his various detractors will be only too willing to pounce.

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Either way, if the version of Jonathan Ross that returns tonight is a muted, inoffensive one then half of his appeal will have gone, so it is hard to see the way forward for the show. It remains the BBC's flagship entertainment programme and that is apparent from the line-up that is promised. Star guest tonight is Tom Cruise and he will be accompanied by Stephen Fry and comedian Lee Evans, with the coveted music slot being granted to Franz Ferdinand.

It's a sign of intent that Ross and his employers intend the show to come back with a bang rather than quietly and inauspiciously slipping back into the schedules.

It was a sudden fall from grace, in that Ross seemed to be untouchable, but when it happened there was a sense that he had had it coming. The so-called Sachsgate incident wasn't by any means his worst lapse; it was more the final straw after a series of comments. Here are a few of the highlights from the couple of years preceding his ban:

December 2007 - Ross boasts that his �6m annual salary is worth '1,000 BBC journalists', just after the BBC had announced plans to make more than 2,000 staff redundant. The National Union of Journalists calls the comment 'obscene'.

June 2006 - Ross asks Conservative Party leader David Cameron if he had teenage sexual fantasies about Margaret Thatcher 'in stockings'.

October 2006 - Ross outrages disability charities with comments about Heather Mills-McCartney, ex-wife of Sir Paul McCartney, who has a prosthetic leg. He calls her a 'liar' and says: 'I wouldn't be surprised if we found out she's actually got two legs.'

There's something to annoy just about everyone there, from his colleagues at the BBC to the Mary Whitehouse brigade (and we have spared you some of the overt sexual comments made to guests such as Kelly Brook, Sienna Miller and Gwyneth Paltrow). In fact, Ross's treatment of some of his star guests has made them reluctant to appear on the show. It was reported that Cruise considered pulling out of tonight's show after learning the details of why Ross hadn't been on TV lately.

Other stars have ruled themselves out altogether. Daniel Craig, who is promo-ting his film Defiance, rejected the offer to appear on the show because of his treat-ment last time. Ross made fun of the rugged James Bond actor, likening his face to that of Carry On star Sid James.

It is also claimed that Leonardo DiCaprio, who's promoting his film Revolutionary Road, has also declined while his co-star Kate Winslet said she would not be interviewed by Ross because it's 'all about him and not the people he invites on to his show'.

Upsetting the delicate egos of certain stars who plug their product on the show is one thing. In fact, his irreverence is an undoubted part of his appeal to viewers. But the revelations about his obscenely high salary and his arrogance regarding his wealth served to irritate even those who otherwise share his sense of humour.

One of the BBC's foremost journalists, the arts commentator Mark Lawson, has already spoken out in advance of tonight's show, saying that he sees Ross's television show as untenable. He speculated that a move to Sky might be in the offing.

Meanwhile, there is also the matter of his BBC Radio Two show, which will also return to the airwaves tomorrow.

Ironically, Ross is probably at his best on the radio, where his endless monologues seem more self-deprecating and less self-indulgent than when he talks all over his guests on television. What's more, you can't get a headache from being exposed to his dress sense.

Friday Night with Jonathan Ross is on BBC1 at 10.35pm.

OPENING WORDS FOR TONIGHT'S SHOW

'So, where were we? Welcome to Friday Night with Jonathan Ross. You're surprised?

'Welcome to our millions of regular viewers and to our several thousand new viewers who I suspect may well be watching for the very first time.

'So it's a brave new world, ladies and gentlemen. Barack Obama is in the White House. Isn't that fabulous and exciting news?

'George Bush has gone - well, he hasn't actually gone, he's still trapped inside tragically pushing on a door with 'pull' written on it.

'But I'm going to miss him in a way, well not so much him, more the things he said.

'Who else could say 'the trouble with the French is they have no word for entrepreneur' or 'I believe human beings and fish can coexist peacefully'. Or, he actually said this, 'rarely is the question asked, is our children learning?'

'What sort of idiot would say stuff like that knowing it was going to be broadcast?

'And on that subject, there can't be many viewers watching who aren't aware that this show hasn't been on recently and the reason for its absence.

'Well, I am going to take this opportunity to apologise for what I said on the radio because being on the BBC and being allowed this level of freedom to communicate openly with people, it's a great privilege and it's something I've always enjoyed and I value enormously, and in future I do intend to be more aware of the responsibility that comes with such a gift.

'But as the kids say, it was my bad, so I do apologise for any hurt or distress it's caused.'

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