Peter Rhodes on taking offence, celebrating niceness and spooks who burgle by night

Read the latest column from Peter Rhodes.

Charlie Cooper and Daisy May Cooper in This Country
Charlie Cooper and Daisy May Cooper in This Country

A reader reports seeing a shopper in a supermarket wearing a sombrero and pushing a trolley piled high with paella and tequila. Hispanic buying.

What was permissible yesterday is forbidden today, as David Walliams knows only too well. Having already apologised for some of the sketches in Little Britain (BBC, 2003-2007), Walliams has now seen his story about a Chinese boy called Brian Wong denounced for “casual racism”, and removed from his book The World’s Worst Children (2016). The speed at which tastes change is quite astounding.

So whatever next? The brilliant BBC mockumentary This Country, recorded from 2017- 2020 and now available on BBC iPlayer, is a multi award-winning series. It is beautifully observed and acted, and is both hilarious and poignant. But then so was Little Britain. This Country also pillories and pokes fun at the culture of deprived, under-educated, working-class white kids living in the Cotswolds. In a society built on taking offence, I'm amazed that no-one has complained.

Antony Holden, an author said to be despised by the Prince of Wales, claims his home was burgled and royal-related documents were stolen in the 1980s. He says local police reckoned the break-in was “out of their league” and looked like “the expert work of intelligence operatives.” And instantly we think of 007 and Spooks and a bunch of lithe young agents resembling the Milk Tray Man, slipping into Holden's study like a posse of greased otters and deftly flipping through a couple of drawers to discover The Vital Documents.

Now, I write a bit and somewhere in my house are dozens of files, a couple of novels and acres of typescript. But I have absolutely no idea where it all is. So if there really are spooks who could find my lost masterpieces in a matter of minutes, I'd be delighted to meet them.

Older readers may recall the generation of English teachers who forbade the use of the word “nice” on the grounds that it was weak, over-used and historically had several different meanings. Thankfully, the anti-nice brigade has passed into history and the banned word has become acceptable. So when the death was announced of the former Tory minister James Brokenshire, it was the word that both political friends and opponents reached for. A thoroughly nice bloke. One of the nicest MPs in the House. I can't think of a finer eulogy. Nice one.

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