Will it be au revoir
to ’Allo, ’Allo?
Cowardly broadcasters are blacklisting TV classics like It Ain’t Half Hot Mum for fear of causing offence.
BBC2 is currently halfway through airing a documentary series suggesting that the 1970s was a very misunderstood decade. Although it has briefly mentioned that several comedy shows of the era reflected the roots of a sexually permissive society and environmentalism, it is a fair bet that some of the more controversial – but truly groundbreaking – productions will be quietly ignored.
Morecambe and Wise is still lauded as the gold standard of the era, with The Two Ronnies a close second, but the swift fall from modern grace afforded to most other offerings of the time is a telling barometer of changing societal attitudes, and not always for the better.
Comfortable stockbroker-belt cheese, represented by Terry and June in their detached suburban house, has long since gone out of fashion, unless accompanied by a dysfunctional family aspect. And Man About the House – and its spin-offs George and Mildred and Robin’s Nest – are rarely aired since increasing gender equality meant even the merest hint of female subservience was frowned upon. However by far the biggest shift has been in the area of race.
One would struggle to discover it now, but the ‘70s brought forth a plethora of comedies inspired what was then the brand new idea of multiculturalism. A nation that was still emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, complete with a suspicion of foreigners, was coming to terms with the societal friction immigration invariably brings. And doing it rather well.
Differences were highlighted and ridiculed by shows such as Mixed Blessings, which charted prejudice surrounding inter-racial marriage. Racist Alf Garnett was laughed out of the house by his own daughter and made to look a hypocritical fool. And the macho, sometimes violent, animosity of Love Thy Neighbour – in which the ‘white honky’ Eddie mostly ended up being portrayed as an ignorant dinosaur – were all lost to our screens a long time ago, despite their arguably highlighting irrational bigotry on both sides.
To TV audiences, it’s like they never existed, with few programmers brave enough to schedule repeats. Their passing hides a valuable historical record of our nation’s agonising over race, and the consequential realignment of values to suit the modern age – all told with a slice of subtle education and a healthy dose of slapstick.
This denial of history has been subtle for quite a while, but has ironically been elevated by the BBC this week deciding that It Ain’t Half Hot Mum be marked as unsuitable for modern re-runs on the grounds of political correctness.
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While BBC2 is admirably laying to rest myths about 1970s culture and attitudes, their schedulers have sent a different signal in condemning a series which was a major comedy success and enjoyed up to 15million viewers at its peak, all innocently chuckling through its seven year run.
Not uniquely for its age, It Ain’t Half Hot Mum lampooned the entire cast. There were stereotypes - of that there is no doubt - but they were just as likely to be the authoritarian stereotypical military Brit in the form of Windsor Davies, or the ineffectual fish out of water soldier, Gunner ‘Lofty’, as they were ‘Indian, Burmese or Japanese’ according to the reasoning behind the programme being shelved.
The BBC points to the terms of its trust status in censoring - because that is exactly what it is - this highly successful series based on their own self-administered sensibilities. That it was considered for repeats in the first place proves that it was likely to be popular, and was not black-balled as a result of projected apathy or lack of viewers. This means the decision was political, not based upon whether it was funny enough to merit re-screening or not.
This is perfectly illustrated by the fact that all the comedy series mentioned are available to buy on DVD at far from subversive sites such as Amazon. Even multicultural stereotype promoter Mind Your Language is available - at a premium price - too. We’re perfectly free to watch these programmes. Just not, it would appear, on the BBC.
The recently-announced decision to exclude It Ain’t Half Hot Mum from future programming is all too depressing. Not only by depriving younger viewers an insight into what the BBC admits was ‘a different time’, but also by attempting to pretend that prejudices, even comical ones, never existed in the post-war era.
If we are to learn by history, the denying of it can serve no purpose except to encourage many to cast themselves as victims of politically-correct marginalisation and consequentially reinforce prejudices on race, rather than break them down.
Is the BBC really trying to say that the 1970s public – which they entertained without too many qualms at the time - were largely racist and uncaring? Many alive today who have experience of the decade would undoubtedly take that as a profound insult.
Additionally, if the BBC is quoting stereotypes as a reason for banning comedies from the 1970s, Dad’s Army’s black or white portrayal of Germans – complete with caricatured ‘Jerry’ accents – must surely soon be for the chop. As will ‘Allo ‘Allo, a show whose sole comic vehicle was stereotypical portrayals of Europeans, and authored by the same David Croft who crafted It Ain’t Half Hot Mum.
It is very sad that, yet again, something as innocent and life-enhancing as comedy is being censored as if it were damaging to the nation, when quite the opposite is true.
Political correctness is, or should be, promoted as a way of improving lives not detracting from them. By banning a TV show in which millions have found enjoyment, the BBC are playing the modern game of pandering to the too-easily offended, and depriving the many a dash of simple comedy joy for fear of feeding an ever-vanishing minority of bigots.
They mean well, without question, but without conflict comedy fails; it was the situation which provided the comedy. With friction comes fun. Dispensing with It Ain’t Half Hot Mum tries to rewrite history through censorship, is a condemnatory slap in the face to those who enjoyed it, and employs political correctness as a tool to yet again make life that little bit more dreary.
Martin Cullip is a columnist for the Free Society.
David Bowden is away.