The third edition of I.T.V.-3's retro series on comedy took as its theme 'Political Correctness'. Now I tend to regard those who drone on endlessly about 'the P.C. brigade' as a pain, yet this almost had me on the same side as Richard Littlejohn and co.
'Love Thy Neighbour', 'Curry & Chips', 'Mind Your Language', 'Till Death Us Do Part' and 'Are You Being Served?' and others all came under fire from D-list celebrities. Vanessa Feltz branded 'Love Thy Neighbour' 'an abomination' - which is how many would describe her televisual output to date. This same woman was sacked from the B.B.C. ten years ago after a scandal in which the guests on her morning talk show were revealed as fakes. Yet she was put forward here as a kind of wise sage, all-knowing, all-seeing. Of Vince Powell and the show's stars there was strangely no sign. I laughed when the show got blamed for racist language in playgrounds. I was at school then, and believe me, the practice did not start in 1972.
The use of stereotypes was deemed objectionable. Check out Reggie Perrin's dippy secretary in the new Martin Clunes sitcom. Comedians blacking up is surely no more offensive than actors who have done the same in Shakespeare's 'Othello' down the years. I do not doubt that some laughed with Alf Garnett rather than at him, but that was their fault, not the show's. Writers cannot predict how their work will be received by the public.
In fairness, 'The Fosters' - the first all-black British sitcom - was featured, but generally the tone towards the old shows was one of naked hostility. No role models for women, grumbled Vanessa. Excuse me? Alf Garnett, Frank Spencer, and Eddie Booth were hardly inspirational for men either. The purpose of sitcoms is to make people laugh, not be tools for social engineering. There were plenty of dramas then that fulfilled that purpose - 'The Foundation', 'Secret Army', 'The Gentle Touch', 'Upstairs Downstairs', 'The Duchess Of Duke Street' - all had strong women characters. If sitcoms lacked them, too bad.
Nina Myskow sneered at Benny Hill for being successful, an item that looked as though it had been taped back in 1987 at the height of the controversy generated by the now-repentant Ben Elton.
Shobna Gulati - whose main contribution to comedy was as 'Anita' in Victoria Wood's patchy 'Dinnerladies' - had plenty to say, yet at the end did a 90 degree turn by claiming not to mind 'politically incorrect comedy, as long as it is clever'. She did not cite examples however. She might possibly have had 'Little Britain' in mind. You can keep it. Sally Lindsay, another contributor, also was in 'Coronation Street', a stereotype-free zone as we all know.
The most jaw-dropping item concerned 'The Black & White Minstrel Show'. Since when has that been a sitcom? What was not touched upon was the fact that if, as was claimed, these shows were so awful, why do D.V.D.'s sell by the truckload? Don Warrington spoke more sense than anyone else, yet fell into the trap of saying he felt 'uncomfortable' watching 'Till Death Us Do Part'. Surely that was part of Johnny Speight's intent? To make us laugh at the unspeakable.
Producers of shows such as these should get off their high horses. Vintage sitcoms cannot be judged by modern standards. Several times the comment was made "You could not get away with it now.". No, what you can get away with these days apparently is talentless comedians in drag vomiting into tea cups.
I was left angry at having wasted an hour of my life which I could have put to better use by watching two episodes of 'Steptoe & Son' or 'Fall & Rise Of Reginald Perrin'.
Beyond a joke was beyond belief.
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