A man has climbed on to the front of the BBC’s Broadcasting House headquarters and used a hammer to damage a prominent statue by Eric Gill, as another man shouted about the artist’s history of paedophilia.
Gill was one of the most prominent early 20th-century British artists and designers until his death in 1940. But his diaries, published many decades later, reveal his sexual abuse of his daughters and family dog.
The carving, which depicts Prospero and a part-naked Ariel from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, was installed by the artist on the front of the BBC’s Broadcasting House headquarters in London in 1933, shortly after the building opened. It sits above the entrance to the BBC on Regent Street and is an integral part of the globally recognised Grade II*-listed building.
The presence of an artwork by a known paedophile on the headquarters of the national broadcaster has become a regular focus of social media discussion and far-right activists such as Tommy Robinson have regularly cited its presence while criticising the BBC.
The broadcaster’s culture editor, Katie Razzall, said that while one man had used a ladder to climb up the statue and chip away at its base with a hammer, another man stood nearby livestreaming and “talking about paedophiles”.
BBC Monitoring journalist Shayan Sardarizadeh said the presence of Gill’s statue on the front of the building had been “an obsession for British QAnon, ‘save our children’, ‘Satanic ritual abuse’ and other conspiracy groups for a very long time”. The motives or identity of the person attacking the statue with a hammer are unknown.
According to the BBC’s own website after the statue was installed in the 1930s and at the time there was public concern “about the size of the sprite’s genitalia”.
“A question was tabled in the House of Commons, but the popular story, that Gill was ordered to modify the statue, is not substantiated,” states the corporation’s history of the artwork.
In addition to his sculptures, Gill also created the widely used Perpetua and Gill Sans typefaces – with the BBC only dropping the use of the latter as its official font earlier this year.
The BBC previously faced calls from sexual abuse charities to remove the statue from its headquarters in 2013 but refused, citing Gill’s record as “one of the last century’s major British artists whose work has been widely displayed in leading UK museums and galleries”.
Although police have been called to the scene, the man has yet to be removed and has been allowed to continue chipping away at the statue for two hours.
The damage to the BBC artwork comes shortly after a jury cleared four individuals of criminal damage after they removed a statue of the slave trader Edward Colston from its plinth in Bristol and dumped it in the city’s harbour. They successfully argued that they had been making a sincere protest against the Colston statue, were exercising their right to free speech, and insisted it was a criminal offence to keep that statue up because it was offensive.
As a result the government has pledged to pass new laws to protect existing statues in public spaces, arguing it is better to provide context. Although many other statues have been targeted for removal in recent years, the Gill statue at the BBC is unusual because the objection is to the artist rather than the person it depicts.