WE live in an age when ill-judged attempts at humour can backfire with spectacular ferocity – just ask Jo Brand and Danny Baker.

It’s increasingly hard to know where to draw the line for fear of causing offence and sparking a social media backlash that spreads like wildfire.

That’s not to say I don’t think Jo Brand, and Danny Baker, were guilty of crossing the line. I think they did, although plenty of others disagree.

Just to recap, Jo Brand had to apologise after making a joke about throwing battery acid over politicians following the milk-shake attack on Nigel Farage.

Comedy should push the boundaries but, much as I like her, Jo Brand went too far this time. In the midst of the ensuing storm, she described her joke as “crass and ill-judged” and that’s a good description.

Danny Baker had earlier been sacked by BBC Radio 5 Live after he posted a picture on Twitter of a chimpanzee wearing a suit, with the caption: “Royal baby leaves hospital.”

Do I think he was intentionally racist? No, I don’t. Do I think he was unbelievably stupid and should have known better? Absolutely. Again, the line was crossed.

All of which brings me to a judgement I made about this column last week. I’d written a farewell piece about David Allaway, a former County Durham police inspector, who went on to be the Mayoral Support Officer in Darlington.

Ahead of his impending retirement after 45 years of distinguished public service, David recounted several anecdotes. One of them was about the first Mayor he’d looked after, Councillor Roddy Francis, pictured below, who came to England from Trinidad, got off a train at Darlington station, and went on to serve the town with such distinction that he was rightly made Citizen of the Year.

David recalled how Roddy’s had bought a raffle ticket at an official function during his Mayoral year in 2004. To his surprise, he won the first prize – 15 minutes in a tanning booth.

“What should I do?” the Mayor asked the Mayoral Support Officer, whose job included giving sound constitutional advice.

David thought about it for a moment before shrugging his shoulders and replying: “Three five-minute sessions should do it.”

Both men had a good laugh about it and I confess the story made me chuckle too. Indeed, it was due to be included in last week’s column until a colleague suggested I should think again.

A subsequent straw poll around the newsroom drew a mixed response. Some felt, like me, that it was innocent and funny. Others thought it would cause offence. Most didn’t actually believe it was racist but felt it would still be unwise to use it because there would inevitably be a backlash.

Unable to contact Roddy, I decided to remove the anecdote from last week’s column. Since then, I’ve spoken to him and he was happy to confirm that he didn’t consider it racist at the time, and still doesn’t. “We both just saw the funny side of it,” he said. “I never took any offence – it’s just life, isn’t it?”

So, where should the line on humour be drawn? Were those of us who found the anecdote funny being racist? In removing it from my column, was I being responsible or allowing myself to be swayed by a tide of political correctness? It’s surely good that we’re being forced to think more  carefully but is freedom of expression being stifled amid the increasing fear of unleashing a tirade of abuse?

Whatever your answers, the aim in asking these questions is to contribute, respectfully, to a constructive, healthy debate.