Listeners to BBC Radio 4's weekly Moral Maze programme were surprised last night to hear chairman Michael Buerk close the show by announcing his retirement and the name of his successor.
"Henceforth my venerable seat will be filled by none other than Mr Joey Barton of this parish," he intoned, adding: "I'm getting out before the shit quite literally hits the fan."
Since arriving in London to sign for QPR, football's bad boy Barton has been seen out and about with some of the doyens of chattering London life such as Tom Stoppard and Mariella Frostrup. "He's become an enfant terrible not only in the sports arena but also in the literary salons of the town. He's the 'ruffian on the stair' and very much a now figure," commented a BBC Arts insider.
"Stoppers put me forward for the job as a laugh," said Barton. "Up until now I thought Ethics was where West Ham played. I can promise you this. I may have been a bit of a berk in the past but I'm going to be a complete Buerk from now on. Get it?"
The new appointment has caused a storm among devotees of the programme in which a regular panel discusses a topical issue each week. The BBC has been showered with letters of protest.
Popular panellist Melanie Phillips was today considering her position: "This is typical BBC dumbing down and trying to be 'edgy'. As usual licence payers are paying for it. It's outrageous and I'm debating with myself whether to continue appearing once a week on national radio or to do something different."
Asked for a reaction to his critics Barton quipped: "It looks like things could get a bit tasty around the table so I'll be wearing my shin pads! Mel's okay. I like a feisty sort and I've got nothing against her.........fortunately!
"That Michael Portillo though. He looks like he can handle himself if you take my meaning."