God, I’m jealous of Michael Gove. Not for being a cabinet minister in the same coalition as Nick Clegg and Vince Cable, obviously, but for being outed as a queer in the new series of Harry & Paul (BBC2, Sunday). Now that’s what I call fame.
Harry & Paul has had mixed reviews. Some of the sketches — the ‘I’m a cop’ one; the US car salesmen — simply aren’t funny. But so what? Even at its best The Fast Show, arguably the funniest-ever broken-sketch comedy series, contained some sketches that weren’t funny. It goes with the territory. Unfunny sketches are the equivalent of the ‘darlings’ that William Faulkner advised authors they should kill. Sometimes, just like authors, comedy sketch writers can’t summon up the necessary callous detachment.
Personally, I reckon this new series still finds Enfield and Whitehouse at the top of their game, making the satirical points that need to be made about the modern world in a way so few of our almost relentlessly PC comics are capable.
Their sketch on the vapidity of Question Time, for example, was absolutely spot-on — as was Enfield’s impression of David Dimbleby: ‘Now, if you are a moronic whinger and you would like to make a fool of yourself in the Question Time audience with a witless, lame remark next week we’ll be at the former Polytechnic of Grey Buildings, now, of course, Cambridge Ring Road University…’ I like that line. Real, reactionary loathing went into it. As it did also into the character of (hijab-wearing) panellist ‘Baroness Token’. And, also, into this typically insightful and widely applauded comment from a typical QT audience member: ‘If all the Eton Tories that went to Harrow school had gone to comprehensives then perhaps we’d still have the grammar schools around…’
What makes it so blissful is that it is about the only humour, anywhere on the BBC, that doesn’t sound as if it were constructed by Common Purpose graduates.
The BBC, as we know, suffers from the most terrible inverted snobbery. Its producers, directors, editors, writers, comedians and departmental heads would rather have their genitalia gnawed by bullet ants than depict their own social milieu because they are so eaten up with guilt and self-hatred at belonging to it.
They breakfast at the Wolseley, they lunch at the Caprice, they drink at the Ivy club, their womenfolk shop at the Cross (aka ‘I saw you coming’), they privately educate their children, they quadruple-kiss one another’s cheeks, they all went to Croatia last year because Croatia was the place to go. But they can never ever bring themselves to show this world in their programmes because if they did their entire sense of moral wellbeing would collapse.
So, instead, what we get is acre upon acre of ballsachingly right-on worthiness: stuff about how hard it is living on welfare; or dealing with Islamophobia; or disability; or struggling to come to terms with your homosexuality in 1950s Ireland; or trying to smuggle condoms into 1950s Ireland; or being abused by priests in 1950s Ireland; or being oppressed in Gaza; etc.
Really, the topic is almost an irrelevance, what matters far more is that it inspires in the viewer/listener the correct emotional response: ‘This makes me feel sad, but also much better about myself because the fact that I can spare time to listen/watch and care about the plight of people much worse off than myself shows that my privileged lifestyle hasn’t made me lose touch with the real world.’
Harry & Paul runs so counter to all such PC nonsense that this week — can you imagine any other comedy series doing this? — it had Nigel Farage on not as Have I Got News For You recently did in order to smear him with innuendo about his expenses claims but simply to be Nigel Farage.
It’s also cheerfully ‘racist’ (Parking Pataweyo), ageist (the dead character on Dragon’s Den), xenophobic (Jonny et Bing — in which the French are nailed as kitsch, pipi- and sex-obsessed weirdos) and heroically sexist, as in the black-and-white When Life Was Simpler sketch in which the Enfield character spies a woman walking down the staircase at a black-tie party and invites her to be his wife. She replies, smilingly, ‘You have such hendsome wavy hair I’d love to. I could stay at home and cook and clean for you. And laugh at all your jokes. And look heppy and pretty for you.’
Yeah, I know it’s not supposed to be an endorsement of that lost golden age. Except of course it is really, in the same way another When Life Was Simpler sketch was when Harry Enfield is trying to book an air ticket. Harry: ‘It is a no no-smoking flight, isn’t it?’ Paul: ‘Oh, yes, sir. All our flights are no no-smoking. It’s mandatory to smoke to calm the nerves….After all, 50 per cent of our flights crash.’
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 24 November 2012