Apparently as the result of a spoof phone call by two Australian disc jockeys to a hospital in London a nurse has died, assumed as I write to have committed suicide, ashamed at having inadvertently allowed the disc jockeys to talk to a colleague about the health of a member of the British Royal family.

A Google search just now for ‘2day fm royal prank’ returns 261,000 results, #royalprank seems to be the Twitter hashtag to use, and there’s very little that can be said about the specifics of the case that hasn’t already.

But the use of the word ‘prank’ in the circumstances is interesting.

2Day FM and its owners have made various statements over the last few days.

On Saturday, before he became more remorseful under the pressure of both listeners and advertisers withdrawing their support, Rhys Holleran, the chief executive of Southern Cross Austereo, 2Day FM’s owners, was quoted as saying

As a craft in radio, [prank calls] have been going for decades and decades…They’re not just part of one radio station or one network or one country, they’re done worldwide.

As usual, the Oxford English Dictionary is enlightening

‘prank.’A malicious trick; a wicked deed; a deception or scheme intended to harm, a hoax. In later use chiefly… A practical joke; a lark; a capriciously foolish act … usu. with modifying word indicating the negative connotations.

Got it? ‘Malicious…wicked…deception…intended to harm…capriciously foolish…negative connotations.’

The use of the word ‘craft’ for prank calls sticks in my gullet, but on one thing Holleran is right.

These calls are widespread, mostly on the more inane sort of shows hosted by the more inane sort of disc jockeys on radio stations similarly inclined. On the occasions I’ve heard them they are usually perpetrated to the accompaniment of exaggerated smug laughter of the ‘How clever I am’ variety.

A prank always has at least a tinge of cruelty about it and is designed to hurt and humiliate, maybe but not always through what passes for humour.

I’m up for actions that speak truth to power and its pomposity but as far as pranks go, count me out.

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