BBC Censorship is no laughing matter



It’s regrettable that the BBC has decided to remove Little Britain and other comedy shows from its iPlayer platform recently. In my view, this decision is deeply misguided and it’s yet another example of the liberal PC brigade trampling over important parts of our popular culture which it one day narrowly identifies as being problematic.

Little Britain and its sister programme ‘Come Fly with Me’ were among my favourite comedy programmes growing up. Yes the humour was edgy and the shows pushed the boundaries as all good comedy does, but the great and good at the BBC seem to have forgotten that almost no one was spared ridicule at the hands of Matt Lucas and David Williams. White people, black people, young people, old people, posh people, not so posh people, gay and straight people were all subjects of the duo’s jokes. It’s surprising the BBC has forgotten this given that it wasn’t actually so long ago since Little Britain was first broadcast in the 2000s.

As Brendan O’Neill pointed out in the Spectator last week, much of the criticism which is now being directed at Little Britain focuses on Desiree DeVere, an obese black woman played by David Williams for which Williams donned a fat-suit and copious amounts skin-darkening make-up to play. As O’Neill points out though, DeVere was a funny character, not because she was black but because she thought of herself as being irresistible to wealthy men. And this was what made audience laugh. Desiree DeVere was also of course not the first character in this type of role on the show, with Matt Lucas playing an equally funny and deluded Bubbles DeVere, the first wife of Desiree’s husband, who was portrayed as white.

Rather than being divisive, comedies like Little Britain often acted as a great leveller for our society. The fact that virtually no one was spared being the butt of a joke now and again put us all in the same position and gave us a chance to all laugh at ourselves together. This self-depreciating form of humour is a hallmark of British comedy and our national character, and it’s a shame the BBC have decided on the viewers’ behalf that they should no longer be exposed to it. British comedy and our popular culture will be the ultimate losers if we get to a place where our sense of humour is more divided, and certain comedic subject matter becomes off limits. Comedy and laughing together is actually one of the fundamental ways that barriers can be broken down in society and we can realise that the differences between us are nothing compared to what unites us. A country that isn’t able to laugh at itself is barely a country worth living in at all.

To this day, I find Little Britain incredibly funny as many other people across the country do. And the BBC’s decision to censor the programme is an insult to all of us who continue to watch it. The BBC’s decision suggests that there is something fundamentally wrong with us for continuing to enjoy Little Britain and that our behaviour must change. It also assumes we can’t be trusted to watch a comedy programme from just over a decade ago without taking away the wrong message about race or a host of other issues today. 

The sad irony is ordinary people are obliged to pay for this patronising form of censorship through their taxes and their licence fee. This includes the large salaries of senior BBC executives who take it upon themselves to make these decisions on behalf of others. While this form of censorship is not unique to the BBC, the BBC is in a unique position as our state broadcaster and it’s quite chilling that a national institution is engaging in erasing of the past. 

We have known for a long time that many of those in senior roles at the BBC have a liberal metropolitan worldview which is incredibly cut off from the mindset and values of most ordinary people, but now it’s clear that these people have the censor’s pen ready over comedy and artistic expression. 

It’s not up to those executives to erase the past, and it sets a worrying precedent about what could be cut in the future. Living in an open society means being exposed to ideas and expression which may not always sit comfortably with us. And it’s fundamentally close-minded to attempt to control what people can and can’t see. None of this takes away from the abhorrent killing of George Floyd or the fact that we still have a way to go to eliminate racism and other forms of prejudice in this country. But it’s a deeply disappointing that a national institution like the BBC has missed the mark so badly on this issue.

Tom Hunt is the Member of Parliament for Ipswich. Follow him on twitter: @tomhunt1988