One of the more curious tales of the last few weeks has been the belated apology offered by a person called Eliot Fletcher. The name might not ring an immediate bell, but thirty years ago this otherwise ordinary teenager was briefly a household name and something of a cult figure among British youth.

Eliot’s notoriety came from a telephone call he made to the Saturday morning children’s programme, Going Live. That particular morning, the show’s guests were the eighties pop group Five Star, a family five piece who liked to think of themselves as a sort of British version of the Jacksons, but actually hailed from Romford in Essex.

Expecting a gentle phone-in led by Going Live host Sarah Greene, the band instead received a more hard-hitting question from Eliot Fletcher. I can’t quote exactly what Eliot’s question was in a family newspaper, but to paraphrase, he asked them why they weren’t very good. It took a few seconds for the producer to realise that Eliot was filling the Saturday morning airwaves with a string of expletives and cut him off. It was one of those shocking and funny TV moments, made more so by the subsequent ‘not big or clever’ lecture that Sarah Greene went on to give the nation.

And that would have been that, except that a few weeks ago, Five Star appeared on one of the BBC4 repeats of Top of the Pops, which led to Eliot Fletcher getting in touch with the band to apologise, thirty years after the incident. Except that wasn’t quite the end of the story either – in a pop culture Spartacus moment, a number of people appeared on social media to claim that they were the real Eliot Fletcher. A BBC journalist eventually tracked down the original caller, who was quite adamant he still had no intention of saying sorry.

The Eliot Fletcher story is one from simpler times. Back when I was growing up, unless you were lucky enough to be chosen for a phone-in, you had no way of communicating directly with the rich and famous. Thirty years on, all of this has changed. These days, every public figure has their own Twitter and Facebook and Instagram accounts, with promotion increasingly skewed away from traditional media toward their own accounts – allowing people to speak directly and unfiltered to their followers.

While that direct interaction undoubtedly has its advantages, what it also does is open up people to abuse. The Eliot Fletcher episode was a single, isolated incident, but vitriolic and abusive messages have increasingly become part of the price you pay for being in the public eye. To give just two examples from the press in the last couple of days: last weekend’s Strictly Come Dancing saw BBC Breakfast presenter Mike Bushell narrowly beat actress Catherine Tyldesley in the dance-off to stay in the show. Mike and his wife Emily subsequently received a torrent of abuse online for the decision. ‘Wow the abuse! Painful’ Mike’s wife tweeted afterwards. On Tuesday, meanwhile, Lib Dem MP Heidi Allen announced she was standing down at the forthcoming election, citing the ‘nastiness and intimidation’ she has endured.

Ah yes, the forthcoming election (I’m writing this Tuesday when that is looking likely). A survey last week by Cardiff and Edinburgh Universities showed that a majority of voters believed that the risk of violence against MPs was a ‘price worth paying’ in order to deliver Brexit. That’s a shocking statistic that should give everyone pause.

Clearly there are strong opinions abound at the moment, but whether you’re voting for Strictly Come Dancing or a new government, we could all do well to take a step back and reflect before commenting. Or to quote the work of one that great philosopher, Thumper, 'if you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all'.