Monday, June 13, 2011
It Ain't Half Hot Mum racist? Don't make me laugh...
video: wiggy videos.
This article of mine appears in the Sunday Express.
THERE are some scandalous things about modern Britain.
The high cost of railway travel. The poor quality of sliced bread. The England football team. The failure of the BBC to repeat on terrestrial television one of the funniest comedy series in history due to political correctness...
I thought about It Ain’t Half Hot Mum after hearing the sad news of the death of Donald Hewlett, who played Lieutenant-Colonel Reynolds in Jimmy Perry and David Croft’s wonderful comedy.
It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, for those who have never seen it, tells the story of the Royal Artillery Concert Party in India and Burma at the end of the Second World War. The series ran from 1974 to 1981 and enjoyed phenomenal popularity, with two of its stars Windsor Davies and Don Estelle even having a No1 hit record. Yet unlike Dad’s Army, another brilliant Perry-Croft creation which is regularly repeated, no series of It Ain’t Half Hot Mum has been broadcast on terrestrial TV since 1984.
What a crying shame. “It’s without doubt the funniest series David Croft and I wrote. It’s also the show we’re not allowed to talk about,” Jimmy Perry has bemoaned.
For the PC brigade the great “crimes” of the show were that it is supposedly racist and homophobic. In fact it is neither. The Indian characters are portrayed sympathetically and the resourceful bearer Rangi Ram, played by Michael Bates, is the real hero of the show.
“It’s not British Asians who call the show racist,” Perry once said. “They called it and still call it ‘our programme’. It was the BBC executives who’d never been to India who thought it racist.”
The homophobic charge doesn’t stack up either. A running theme in the series is the desire of Battery Sergeant-Major Williams, played so memorably by Windsor Davies, to get the concert party, whom he regards as a “load of poofs” and not proper soldiers, up the jungle to fight the Japanese.
Williams is undoubtedly a homophobe but the joke is firmly on him. In It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, Perry and Croft are lampooning homophobia, not supporting it. In any case it’s wrong to criticise a programme which portrays attitudes prevalent at the time. “That series came nearest to the truth of anything we’ve done,” says Perry, who based the show on his own experiences of running an army concert party.
Perry modelled Davies’s character on his own sergeant-major, a man who got the soldiers to line up and shout: “We’re a bunch of poofs!” Ironically, while that show is absent from our screens, comedy which is far more offensive is allowed in the politically correct era.
New wave and so-called “alternative” comedians sneer at and attack disabled people and other minority groups but because they’re considered hip and trendy they’re allowed to say and do what they want. The double standards are glaring.
While It Ain’t Half Hot Mum has been condemned for casting white Englishman Bates in a lead Indian role, Little Britain duo Matt Lucas and David Walliams were allowed to darken their faces in their portrayal of a wide range of ethnic characters in their latest series Come Fly With Me.
Yet Bates, a man brought up in India and who was fluent in Urdu, had legitimate claims to the role as Asian actor Renu Setna, who also appeared in It Aint Half Hot Mum, has conceded. “There’s no way it could have been played by anyone but Michael Bates,” he said.
One of the main differences between the comedy of Perry and Croft and what passes for comedy today is that while Perry and Croft set out simply to make us laugh modern comedians and comedy writers seem more concerned in shocking us.
JUST think of the appalling “prank” phone call which Radio 2 presenters Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand made to Fawlty Towers star Andrew Sachs, in which they made obscene comments about having sex with Sachs’s granddaughter.
Think too of Mock The Week panellist Frankie Boyle poking fun at people with Down’s syndrome. Or Jimmy Carr joking about British servicemen who had lost their limbs.
For today’s “cutting edge” comedy writers nothing is too tasteless. One episode of a Channel 4 series,
The IT Crowd, featured a German cannibal seeking someone who is willing to be eaten. The fact that The IT Crowd won a Bafta award tells us all we need to know about the dire state of television comedy today.
Then of course there’s the bad language which is nowadays so prevalent. Watch the entire 56 episodes of It Ain’t Half Hot Mum and the worst you’ll hear is a very occasional “bastard”.
Perry and Croft didn’t have to use swear words in their attempts to get people to laugh, they were far too talented for that.
Writing about It Ain’t Half Hot Mum in his autobiography, You Have Been Watching, David Croft stated: “Our show wasn’t just a funny programme. It was founded in truth and deserves a place in our classic comedies.”
Let’s hope that the BBC programme schedulers have a change of heart and allow a whole new generation of viewers to enjoy a true television gem.