Are there enough black and minority ethnic people on our television screens? The comedian Lenny Henry thinks not and has proposed targets to ensure better representation. Lenny means stuff like Midsomer Murders, I think, which famously avoided using people of colour for a very long time in its absurd but strangely comforting dramas. I think this was to cater for people like me who enjoy watching affluent white people bludgeon each other with candlesticks in the library. In fairness, even Midsomer Murders once had some gypsies play a pivotal role in one episode — they lived in a gaily painted horse-drawn caravan, and were scrupulously tidy and probably filed their income tax returns ahead of schedule.
But in general, Lenny has a point, I suppose. If black people are poorly represented on TV it is because the industry is controlled by middle-aged white public schoolboys in the main. It is less representation on screen that is the problem than representation behind the scenes. Older readers may be inclined to suggest that back in the day sitcoms such as Love Thy Neighbour and It Ain’t Half Hot Mum both portrayed ‘BME’ people in a sort of positive, if comical, role — but I don’t think Lenny would agree with you if you ventured this as a serious refutation of his argument.
Indeed, one of the co-writers of It Ain’t Half Hot Mum has compared Britain to ‘Stalin’s Russia’ because the BBC will not show repeats of the comedy due to ‘political correctness’. Jimmy Perry, who is now 90 years old, wrote the show with the late David Croft, and both men will be revered for all time as a consequence of their earlier hit, Dad’s Army. But not, surely, for IAHHM, which was a woeful agglomeration of poof jokes and featured the very white actor Michael Bates with Bisto on his face pretending to be a witless and elderly Indian.
It would be nice to think that the BBC had refused to show IAHHM because it was unmitigated, leaden, wearying crap — as embarrassing then as it would be now, even if it was widely watched. But Perry has probably got a point that the Beeb thinks it will offend people on grounds of race and that this is the reason it has not been revived. That’s the sort of thing the BBC does.
I missed a trick, a week or so back, when I was given an opportunity to highlight the corporation’s craven and cowardly political correctness and the confusion, if not paralysis, that is occasioned within it when rival chunks of political correctness come into conflict with one another. I had been invited to take part in a BBC3 discussion programme and now wish that I had agreed to do so. I turned them down for several fairly compelling reasons. First, it would have meant a 400-mile round trip to Birmingham. Second, one of my fellow panellists was to be Mehdi Hasan, who must, under the law, be on every BBC discussion programme, but who sadly I cannot abide. Third, I guessed that there wouldn’t be much money on offer. And fourth — the clincher, really — only the previous week I had written an article suggesting that BBC3 was in the main pointless, money-wasting garbage and that the BBC was right to decide to close it down.
Anyway, this discussion programme was held in a mosque and included a short film from a young Muslim drag queen called Asifa Lahore, who asked the question: ‘When will it be right to be Muslim and gay?’ The question, however, was not discussed by the panel and audience, because the BBC feared it would offend the owners of the mosque. In other words, they censored the discussion. The programme in question was called Free Speech, by the way. Ha. Or maybe LOL would be more apposite. Either way, my ribs have just split in two.
On its dumbed-down and chirpy website — I have the horrible feeling that the programme is aimed at something called Yoof — Free Speech proclaims: ‘Britain is a democracy and we can say what we want — so let’s say it!’ OK, then — how about this? The producers of Free Speech are spineless, pusillanimous and cowardly and I hope you fail to find jobs when your ludicrous channel is eventually axed. Consider the courage required for that young Muslim lad to have come out as gay and, further, to have made a film about his experience, which he entrusted to the BBC, confident that his views would be debated — because after all, that’s what the programme is about, isn’t it? The imbeciles at the BBC announced that the issue would be debated on a later programme — presumably one not being filmed in a mosque. A programme being filmed somewhere where the issue had no great controversy, in other words — i.e., almost anywhere else.
In the BBC’s hierarchy of political correctness, not offending Muslims trumps not offending gay people. How utterly pathetic. And I had been looking forward to hearing Mehdi Hasan explain that, actually, Islam isn’t really homophobic at all and how Allah was a big fan of The Wizard of Oz and owned a boxed set of Abba CDs. The corporation still doesn’t get it; you fear it never will.