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Then and now – is it really progress?

The subject of how society evolves over time is a complicated thing, especially when you’re an oldie. Not least because you can remember the days when things were different and you just got on with it. Particularly when it comes to social attitudes and humour, because they will always only be ‘of their own time’.

In Britain – for those of us old enough – the second half of the 20th Century was a period of great change.

The Second World War, like its predecessor, was a seismic game-changer in the evolution of modern Western society.

Sadly, major events of national crisis, especially wars from the moment when when military and other technology developed the ability to impact greatly upon non-combatants, tend to do this.

The Second World War proved to have turned a great deal upside-down as a large proportion of males were away fighting, the Americans were ‘over here’, and women had to step up and undertake all kinds of work and roles that had ordinarily previous been reserved for men.

The normal rules of society were buffeted: people got married earlier and urgently, or had affairs, promoted by a collective desire to ‘live for the day’ and not wanting to die – if indeed that was to be their fate – as virgins.

Bernard Manning

When it came to humour and entertainment, the early 20th Century music hall days were succeeded by television shows such as Saturday Night At The London Palladium, The Two Ronnies, Benny Hill and The Comedians and those of stand-up specialists like Les Dawson, Bernard Manning and Jim Davidson in all of which institutionalised sexism was rife.

Sit-coms such as Till Death Us Do Part and Love Thy Neighbour majored upon similar and, of course, issues of race relations from what now be a highly non-PC viewpoint.

I could go on, but instead here are just two examples – and yes, even though I’m female, some of the gags make me smile for all sorts of reasons:



Here’s an American classic.  George was a veteran vaudeville stand-up comedian.

He and his wife Gracie tapped into the mood of post-War American by moving their Burns and Allen act, in which George played the straight man and Gracie his scatter-brained homely wife, first into first radio and then later television with great success.

Here’s a peek at how things used to be in the good ole US of A – YOUTUBE



Les will need no introduction to anyone over the age of fifty. He wrote much of his own material, delivered from the viewpoint of a curmudgeonly middle-aged working class man in a deadpan style smattered with mother-in-law jokes.

As an aside he was an accomplished pianist who developed a skill of playing piano extremely poorly (an art in itself).

Here’s just a snippet of his delivery style – YOUTUBE

My point today is this.

On the website of the Daily Mail today there are two news stories detailing recent developments in field of political-correctness and diversity, as I think it’s called.

Firstly, the publicly-announced reasons why the current President of the legendary Cambridge Footlights comedy group has quit – see here – FOOTLIGHTS

Secondly, the wonderfully-whacky BBC continues to get itself in a tangle as it falls into line behind the ‘right on’ PC drive to advance the cause of women – see here – BBC

You can call me an old-fashioned dinosaur taking a tilt at Millennial snowflakes if you wish, but from my perspective the concept of ‘employment quotas’ is both superfluous and potentially dangerous.

If your topic is greater ‘employment opportunity’, then no problem – I’m with you all the way.

However, where I part company with the modern PC juggernaut is aspects like the proposed ‘rigging’ of employment decisions on grounds of gender alone. I do get the argument that obtaining the opportunity is a problem – and also the line that experience breeds competence – but at the end of the day the issue is whether competence alone is enough: in all walks of life those who get to the very top have to be especially good and a large measure of that is down to the individual’s personal gifts.

Miranda Hart

Take comedy and the ability to make people laugh.

You could give a comedienne all the opportunities (and even experience) anyone could want or need want, but when she walks out on stage, whether that be at a Royal Variety Performance or in some dingy club in the West Midlands with just fifty in the audience, all that is going to matter is whether she gets a laugh.

For me, whether the Cambridge Footlights society has enough non-whites – or even women – on its committee is a total irrelevance.

As is the BBC’s notion that by April 2019 it is going to achieve a 50:50 split of male and female experts in its programmes. I don’t want to watch BBC programmes of any genre that requires input of expert opinions worrying that one or more of their expert participants is there, not because she’s the best available in her field, but because she’s helping the BBC ‘achieve its stated quota’.

It’s deeply patronising to women for a start.



About Jane Shillingford

Jane spent the bulk of her career working on women’s magazines. Now retired and living on the south coast, she has no regrets and 'would do it all again'. More Posts