Keith Harrison: And Now For Something Completely Different
I wish to register a complaint.
My wife Deidre and I want to know what retribution Mr Shane Allen, the controller of BBC Comedy, will face for accusing those comedy messiahs, Monty Python, of, quite frankly, always looking on the white side of life.
A silly walk along the plank? Lunch with Mr Creosote?
Crucifixion, first offence?
I don’t expect the Spanish Inquisition . . .
OK, enough of the Python punch-lines; they don’t work well in print (as you can see).
And, a bit like the team itself, the years have not been kind.
Particularly to Graham Chapman.
Too soon? Oh relax, I’m sure he’s laughing along in comedy heaven somewhere.
But now for something completely different.
Because whether you’re a fan or not, Mr Allen’s honest appraisal that Mssrs Cleese, Idle et al would not be commissioned by the BBC reveals something about the priorities of his department and, by close association, our state broadcaster as a whole.
“If we’re going to assemble a team now, it’s not going to be six Oxbridge white blokes, it’s going to be a diverse range of people who reflect the modern world,” says Mr Allen, ignoring the fact that Terry Gilliam was educated in America.
“It’s about how original the voice you have, rather than what school you went to.”
Unless, of course, it’s Oxford or Cambridge.
And you’re white. And a bloke.
His remarks have sparked a furore, but why so?
He’s only being honest – and this revelation can’t come as news to many people.
It’s 2018 and the role of the state broadcaster has long since changed from Auntie Beeb to Mother Hen.
Apparently, it’s not about whether you’re funny or not; it’s about ‘reflecting the modern world’ and ‘how original’ your voice is.
His words, not mine.
Now, I’m no comedy expert, clearly, but surely ‘funny’ should trump sociology and originality in the list of priorities?
And although the Pythons are often cited as pioneers, you could argue that even they weren’t original, following on from a long line of semi-surrealist troupes stretching back through The Goons to Will Hay’s gang and beyond.
Neither of those groups were particularly diverse either, but they were hilariously funny.
Or so I think.
Other people – my children in particular – stare like dogs that have just been shown a card trick when I put on ‘Oh, Mr Porter!’, from 1937.
That’s thing about comedy, each to his own.
Personally, I’m prepared to be offended and challenged over my politics, religion and beliefs by my favourite comics.
Other people may not be. If so, Bill Hicks and Frankie Boyle may not be your cup of tea.
But discriminating against someone because they went to a posh university?
Surely that’s, errr, discrimination.
And there’s nothing funny about that, in whatever guise it appears.
It’s a fairly recent approach too; would The Young Ones (four white blokes) have been commissioned these days? Or would their Scumbag College background have saved them?
Would Fawlty Towers (all white cast, casual racism) earn a booking? Would Alan Partridge get a second series?
Perhaps the comedy commissars would step in on The Office now, given that the majority of its characters were white men? Same goes for The Inbetweeners and Phoenix Nights.
But given the revisionist millennial monstering hit shows like Friends and Sex and the City have had recently, I doubt we’ll see their all-white like again.
Don’t get me wrong; it’s great that times have changed and the patently unfunny ‘Love Thy Neighbour’ genre (shudder) has been rightly cast into the bin.
I also recognise that the Beeb is a broad church and has to cover a lot of bases in its quest for comedy gold.
Perhaps Famalam, a new comedy gang show with an all black cast, is hilarious.
Maybe the three pilot shows handed to rising female stars (The Diary of a Hounslow Girl by Ambreen Razia, Welsh coming-of-age story In My Skin by Kayleigh Llewellyn and sketch show Tash and Ellie by Natasia Demetriou and Ellie White) will go on to become classics.
But the corporation has been struggling for a major comedy hit for some time now, if you discount the cult success of the Marmite-esque Mrs Brown’s Boys (not for me, thanks).
And while it prioritises a ‘sense of place’ and ‘demonstrating diversity’ over laughs, the joke will continue to be on the licence payers.
Now, enough of this heavy nonsense.
Let me lighten the mood with a true story of when those Goons Spike Milligan Harry Secombe met for the first time.
During the Second World War, Milligan’s artillery unit accidentally allowed a large howitzer to roll off a cliff, under which Secombe was sitting in a small wireless truck.
Sir Harry recalled: “Suddenly there was a terrible noise as some monstrous object fell from the sky quite close to us.
“There was considerable confusion, and in the middle of it all the flap of the truck was pushed open and a young, helmeted idiot (Milligan) asked ‘Anybody see a gun?”
Quick as a flash, Harry replied: “What colour was it?”
Truly, they don’t make ‘em like they used to.