Thank Goodness! The Real McCoy back – and I’m not talking about the Crisps!

I have never agreed with the debate around TV censorship, these past few weeks with the broadcasters initially pulling and then u-turning on a string of British comedy programs previously deemed offensive.

Many of you would have noticed the return of the 1990s TV Series “The Real McCoy” which was mysteriously “lost” and then subsequently “found” now being shown on BBC iPlayer. The show is a satirical take on Black British culture and the lived experiences of the children of the Windrush generation.

The BBC joined other media outlets in removing content found to be racially insensitive in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests, with ‘Little Britain’ removed from iPlayer due to its portrayal of minority characters.

A 1975 episode of Fawlty Towers was also temporarily removed by BBC subsidiary UKTV for racist language, and The League of Gentlemen was taken down by Netflix over concerns about a character in blackface make-up.
As someone who grew up in 1970s Britain, watching programmes like “The Black and White Minstrel Show”, “Till Death Us Do Part” with the infamous “Alf Garnett” character; and others like ‘Love Thy Neighbour’, ‘Mind Your Language’, and “Rising Damp”, I struggle to see what this memory-holing problematic culture demonstrates other than our inability to deal with own uncomfortable past.

Liberalism and free speech should be able to accommodate the things we do not agree with, resisting the temptation of subscribing to “cancel culture” as we risked being caricatured as ‘woke’ or even ‘Orwellian’.
I believe these recent steps taken to censor programmes following Black Lives Matter campaigning, should be shown to reflect outdated attitudes to race found in older TV shows and should be aired and understood in that context.

I think all this speaks to a broader problem of mismanagement of the debate around race and racism, particularly amongst those who rarely experience racism themselves, but who dominate the chattering classes on the subject.

* Michael Bukola is a London Assembly List Candidate and former Lib Dem councillor in Southwark

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12 Comments

  • David Evans 5th Aug '20 - 2:56pm

    One of the most considered and insightful articles I have seen in a long time. Thank you Michael for reminding us that Liberals should not support running away from or hiding problems, but should face up to them.

    We have spent too much time persuading ourselves that hurting the feelings of other people is a sin. Liberals who don’t regularly hurt the feelings of Conservatives and Socialists aren’t doing their job right.

    All the best in Southwark and in the Assembly elections.

  • James Belchamber 5th Aug '20 - 4:58pm

    (I’ll preface this by saying that I know of no real reason “The Real McCoy” was ever “cancelled” – it doesn’t really sit alongside “The Black and White Minstrel Show”, so far as I know)

    Honestly, I see this as a similar issue to statues: there is a place for them, but that place is in a museum – not an entertainment platform.

    We certainly shouldn’t be trying to “memory-hole” these examples of racism in our cultural history, but I don’t see why this is an either-or. There seems to be a clear application of the paradox of tolerance in this instance – normalising racism through humour is how we perpetuated oppression.

  • The problem with the BBC is it seems opaque. I would prefer the BBC to have defined responsibilities and to split the organisation into a public and private one with the public one more accountable and transparent and to scrap the anachronistic licence fee.

    I can understand the annoyance some people would feel over what looks like unaccountable people making decisions over what the general population is allowed to watch.

  • Jane Ann Liston 5th Aug '20 - 9:02pm

    I wasn’t watching much TV when ‘Love thy Neighbour’ was on. However from the odd bits I did catch, the programme seemed to be attacking the white racist attitude, showing up Booth for the small-minded idiot he was.

  • I am more bothered by Trump who isn’t joking.

  • Jane Ann Liston 5th Aug ’20 – 9:02pm…………I wasn’t watching much TV when ‘Love thy Neighbour’ was on. However from the odd bits I did catch, the programme seemed to be attacking the white racist attitude, showing up Booth for the small-minded idiot he was……

    Your memory differs from mine. I didn’t watch the programme because, even then, I found it too offensive; the ‘laughs’ were milked by the repetition of racist name calling from both sides. In short, it pandered to the worst instincts of a racist society..

  • Michael Bukola 6th Aug '20 - 2:13pm

    Thanks for the comments being Made so far.

    @James – Completely respect the distinction between The Black and White Mistrel Show and the Real McCoy, it’s not like for like.

    @Jane
    @expats
    Love Thy Neighbour: We should recognise that although uncomfortable to watch, it was compelling viewing for many with figures ranging from 14 -17 million people watching any one episode. If we understand that comedy should induce laughter, it should therefore illustrate the ambivalent potential of laughter, even in those who it may offend. Whether laughter demonstrates acquiescence is another matter. Think of the “Carry-on” films. How many of us laugh at things which were not appropriate or completely indecent. I bet you wouldn’t get rid of them.

  • Paul Barker 6th Aug '20 - 3:22pm

    My Family used to watch The Black & White Minstrels when I was a Kid & I have to say that I completely missed the point. I didnt realise that the obviously White Performers in Blackface were meant to be African-Americans, they didnt look or talk like any of the actual ones on TV or the Carribean people I saw in the Streets or at School.
    The whole thing was very odd : White British performers in The 1960s pretending to be Rural. Southern, African-Americans of the 19th Century. Why ?

  • Peter Martin 6th Aug '20 - 4:21pm

    My parents loved the B&W minstrels. They weren’t the only ones. The viewing figures were reported to be 20 million or so. The white minstrels, incidentally, were all conventionally (very) attractive slim white females. So there is a sexist angle to the program too.

    It wasn’t my cup of tea at all. I was more into Deep Purple, and AC/DC at the time and just dismissed it as a harmless TV show for the ‘old folk’. I’ve just taken another look at it on youtube and it seems incredible now. But there it still is!

  • Richard O'Neill 6th Aug '20 - 9:35pm

    Although too young to personally watch the various programmes discussed here, as someone very interested in the history of popular culture I’ve been able to see episodes of each of them.

    You can’t recreate the circumstances under which people first watched them but it seems a number of shows such as Till Death Us Do Part, Love Thy Neighbour were initially commissioned on the basis they were progressive, only for the writers to find they actually got bigger laughs and ratings by promoting the racial antipathy of characters. In terms of the latter anti-black attitudes are countered by jibes of “honky” and “snowflake”. Yes it contradicts stereotypes that may have been held at the time (Rudolph Walker is a black conservative fan of Margaret Thatcher, opposed to his white racist, trade union neighbour) but does little to acknowledge that racial groups aren’t block identities. I understand that like Mind Your Language, it sold very well across the world including in black majority countries which is actually quite sad. I hate to think people thought this was the best Britain could produce, historically fascinating as it might be.

    Generally I prefer warning signs ahead of older films and TV shows if they are shown on obscure channels, however editing them of their “controversial” elements can make them more acceptable and allow them to be broadcast on prime TV if they are a popular show (Fawlty and Dad’s Army).

    As someone of a mixed background I really want people to be promoting the similarities between ethnic backgrounds rather than the differences, however “funny” some people may find it.

  • jayne mansfield 7th Aug '20 - 8:51am

    @ Richard O’ Neill,
    My parent’s watched Until Death do us part, and quite frankly, whilst there are those who say that attitudes have changed, I would argue that some of us who were appalled by the bigotry even then might disagree.
    My memory of the time was not that the writers did anything to increase the antipathy because it got more laughs, but that they were actually alarmed that there were viewers who actually thought that Alf Garnett was the voice of common sense. I distinctly remember Warren Mitchell articulating his discomfort. He was so upset and disturbed by this. In real life, he couldn’t have been further from the character he was acting.

    I am interested in your suggestion that there is forewarning is material of a ‘controversial’ nature is to be broadcast. But if those of us who believe bigotry is offensive and damaging just take avoiding action, does that not leave those who think the unacceptable is acceptable, or oblivious to satire, unchallenged in their comfort zone?

    If the viewer responses alarmed the writer and actors who appeared in some of these programmes then, the responses likely to be evoked should alarm us now. Those who believe that times have changed, are in my opinion deluded.

    I hope you don’t view my response to your post as ‘whitesplaining’, an all too common phenomenon. Like you I want to see an end to the division and hurt caused by racism and bigotry. I just take a different position to you on this, and indeed to some of my family and friends who all want the same ends.

  • marcstevens 9th Aug '20 - 2:09pm

    A very good well argued post and I agree with much of it but draw the line when it comes to the abuse of free speech eg hate speech. People are entitled to a view even if they rarely experience racism as it affects everyone in different ways. I have challenged racist comments at football matches and will continue to do so (also homophobia) but my own personal experience is more around anti-semitism.

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