Harry Enfield: Nick Robinson apologises for comedian's use of racial slur during blackface debate

Rex Features / Getty Images
Rex Features / Getty Images

Radio 4 presenter Nick Robinson has apologised after Harry Enfield used the word “c**n” in a controversial interview defending blackface.

Enfield, who last donned blackface to play actor Harry Belafonte in a 2014 comedy special, was involved in a debate on the Today programme with Robinson and comedian and writer Ava Vidal.

When recalling the time he portrayed South African anti-apartheid freedom fighter Nelson Mandela as a drug dealer in 2007, the comedian, 59, said: “I’ve done it, several times in the past, I’ve played Nelson Mandela in one thing for laughs.”

Enfield, stating that he did not intend to cause offence, continued: “Let me tell you, Nick, obviously Al Jolson or GH Elliot, who played the Chocolate Coloured C**n in the 1930s – they perpetuated the myth of the happy negro who was just very happy to sing under the crack of the whip, the American whip or the British imperial bayonet and obviously that’s deeply offensive and always will be.”

Robinson, who pointed out Enfield’s offensive use of the racial slur during broadcast, has since apologised on Twitter.

“The discussion on @bbcr4today about comedy & the portrayal of black people between Harry Enfield & Ava Vidal has provoked a lot of comment," he wrote.

“I’m really sorry a racial slur was used on air. I pointed out that it was offensive & asked Harry not to repeat it.”

Robinson continued: “As I have said in the past – in a totally different context – ‘Normal service from the BBC means you will hear people you disagree with say things you don’t like’ but you should not hear racially offensive language & I’m sorry you did.”

During broadcast, Robinson had said: “Just to be clear, Harry, because there will be people offended by that term you just used. You’re using it in inverted commas. Let’s not repeat it, but it’s a term that was used at the time.”

Enfield responded: “Well that was his name on stage.”

The comedian’s appearance has been heavily criticised, with many wondering why the BBC permitted him to defend blackface on air.

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