Why These Iconic British Comedies Were Banished From Our Screens
Some of the biggest ratings hits of all time are rarely seen on TV these days. Whether a clash with broadcasters or a clash with modern culture, there are a raft of shows which once drew in millions and have since been consigned to the telly scrap heap.
‘It Ain’t Half Hot Mum’
Why it’s not repeated: ‘Cultural insensitivity’
Running from 1974 to 1981 over eight series, ‘It Ain’t Half Hot Mum’ was a smash hit for the BBC, yet it never sees repeat today, likely over accusations of its cultural insensitivity.
Penned by Jimmy Perry and David Croft, the writers behind other hit shows like 'Dad’s Army’ and 'Hi-De-Hi!’, it’s come under retrospective scrutiny for its depiction of Indian characters and perceived homophobia, the latter largely thanks to Melvyn Hayes’s character Bombardier 'Gloria’ Beaumont, who was sent up and ridiculed for the implication that he was gay.
His character was portrayed as both overtly effeminate and cowardly. Meanwhile, white British actor Michael Bates’ was 'blacked up’ to play Indian character Rangi Ram.
Perry has criticised the BBC in the past for refusing to repeat the show, despite its popularity, saying it’s a 'shame’ that a younger generation can’t enjoy it.
Asked how he’d respond to accusations of racism or homophobia, he said: “I’d tell you straight away, they don’t know their history - they don’t understand their history and they don’t know anything about the British Empire. What we portrayed in 'It Ain’t Half Hot Mum’ was the historical truth.”
He added that Bates only wore a 'light tan’ and that a sergeant-major telling troops they were 'a bunch of poofs’ was what they did at the time.
“That’s how it was!” he said. “It was the reality,” adding that he’d been 'wrongly attacked’ by the 'PC brigade’.
‘The Likely Lads’
Why it won’t get repeated: James Bolam
There was nothing offensive about 'The Likely Lads’, Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais’ knockabout comedy about two working class friends from the North East. And it was massive back in its day, recording audience figures of a staggering 27 million.
The reason it’s not repeated? James Bolam.
According to co-star Rodney Bewes, he refused to grant permission for repeats while 'New Tricks’ was airing.
Bewes told The Independent in 2010: “Jimmy Bolam’s killed it, which is such a pity. I’m very poor so I have to tour one-man shows because Jimmy has buried The Likely Lads. You have to sign a waiver for them to repeat it and he stopped it while he did New Tricks. Well, New Tricks has been on so long, and is so repeated, that he must be very wealthy; me, I’ve just got an overdraft and a mortgage. He should let it be repeated on BBC2 or BBC1; to stop other people earning money is cruel.”
Asked why the pair haven’t spoken since 1976, he added: “It’s this actor’s ego thing: he thinks he is important. Actors aren’t important. I’m not important; I have fun. I think Jimmy takes himself very seriously as an 'actor’.”
‘Till Death Us Do Part’
Why it’s not repeated: People didn’t get that it was satire
Warren Mitchell’s character Alf Garnett in 'Till Death Us Do Part’, was perhaps 1970s TV’s most quintessential jingoist. A sexist, racist bigot and proud of it. As such it is rarely, if ever repeated today.
Garnett was intended by writer Johnny Speight to be sent up, to be a figure of ridicule for his myopic world view. On his death in 1998, Mitchell compared Speight’s use of satire to that of Jonathan Swift.
“I’ve just been re-watching the episode about donating blood,” Mitchell told the Independent. “Alf believed that if a white man got blood from a black man, there was a danger of awful disease. Then his son-in-law said something equal to anything campaigners come out with: `So all you’ve got to do is take Cassius Clay, drain him of his blood, put it in a white, British man, and you’d have a white, British heavyweight champion of the world’. That says all there is to say about the idiocy of racism.”
However, in 2013, it was reported that the BBC shelved a report that showed that a significant proportion of viewers - of which there were sometimes as many as 16 million - had missed the satire entirely, and agreed with Garnett’s views.
It concluded that rather than ridiculing bigotry, 'the series may have reinforced existing illiberal and anti-trade union attitudes’.
‘The Benny Hill Show’
Why it’s not repeated: Sexism, blackface
Benny Hill wasn’t just a massive hit in the UK, his bawdy capers were exported around the globe. 'The Benny Hill Show’ aired in one form or another almost constantly from 1955 to 1991.
It was exported to over 140 countries, making him a global superstar, not to mention the ratings bonanza he would enjoy in the UK. However, it’s rarely repeated.
Critics often zeroed in on the sexism the show appeared to revel in, with the 'Hills Angels’ dressed in skimpy clothing chased by slobbering sexually ravenous men.
Hill used to counter the argument claiming that the female character kept their dignity – though rarely their modesty – while the men were depicted as drooling buffoons.
Ben Elton once denounced him as nothing more than a 'dirty old man, tearing the clothes off nubile girls while chasing them round a park’.
Add to this the fact that Hill also used to black up on the show, and the chances of repeat residuals for the Hill estate look less and less likely, even if David Cameron did choose Hill’s song 'Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West)’ as one of his Desert Island Discs.
The show was dropped by BBC America in 2007. A spokesperson for the channel said that despite it remaining surprisingly popular in the States, it 'reflects older Britain and our job is to reflect contemporary Britain and all the cool shows coming out’.
Why it’s not repeated: No-one really knows
As The Goodies, Graeme Garden, Tim Brooke-Taylor and Bill Oddie could draw in TV audiences in the tens of millions with their wilfully surreal sketches and catchy pop songs like Funky Gibbon and Black Pudding Bertha.
A nostalgia show stuck on BBC2 in the hinterland of Christmas broadcasting on December 30, back in 2006, even managed to draw in 3.3 million.
But that was more or less the last we have seen of them, and the show is rarely, if ever, repeated today.
Strangely, unlike other shows which were accused of sexism or racism, it’s less clear cut why The Goodies isn’t seen on TV anymore.
Last year, the BBC made 7000 hours of archive material available to buy on its digital store. The Goodies, sadly, did not figure.
“Surprised wouldn’t be the word. We’ve come to expect rejection. We don’t understand why,” Oddie told The Times. ‘You put on Dad’s Army and, with respect, even Python has been repeated a million times. We’ve hardly been repeated at all. So somebody must hate it.”
Brooke-Taylor added: “We are cross. The programmes are still regularly aired in Australia and the show is still massive, over all ages. So we do know that it still appeals. That’s what’s frustrating. If they showed a few and people said 'that’s rubbish’, we’d accept that. It’s the fact that it’s not given the chance.”
That group moved from the BBC to ITV could have had an effect on how the show was repeated too, with the move to ITV likely ruling out repeats on the BBC for several years.
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