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Then And Now

A few weeks ago a fellow Rust columnist name-checked a British television channel called Talking Pictures TV, founded in 2015, which broadcasts free-to-air vintage films and television programmes and – as I understand it – can be seen via Freeview, Sky and Virgin Media (though I may be incorrect on that).

The context was the impact of the “wokeness” movement upon all things modern – with an added a twist courtesy of perceptions as harboured by those of us beyond a certain age.

Most of us over the age of fifty can probably recall highly-successful television series and/or light entertainment greats from the past with their own shows whose output to an extent relied upon attitudes and/or stereotypes that today would not past muster because of their “unacceptability”.

Here I won’t provide a comprehensive list – partly because my memory these days is not what it was and it would take me all night to come up with one – but let us begin with a former two-decade staple of the BBC’s Saturday night early peak-time output, The Black And White Minstrel Show (1958-1978), in which white “Music Hall” performers knocked out classic old-time popular songs, with female performers decked out in show-girl outfits and their male counterparts in white ‘tops and tails’ and “blackface” make-up.

For my sins, whilst I wasn’t a huge fan, as a youngster I watched it without ever considering whether it offended my fellow Britons of BAME origin.

I took it for what I imagine its originators intended it as, viz. firstly a showcase for “old time” popular songs that presumably a large section of the viewing audience (aged forty and above?) enjoyed being reminded of and hearing again and secondly, a nostalgic nod to “blackface” entertainment – a subset of general live performing in which white performers “blacked up” in order to pretend to be of black origin.

Yes, I know – it sounds absolutely horrendous today, doesn’t it?

However, in its heyday – the late 19th and early 20th Century – it was a vibrant and popular genre considered by the general population to be celebratory rather than offensive.

Next up let’s name-check Warren Mitchell’s portrayal of Alf Garnett in Till Death Us Do Part (BBC, 1965 to 1975), the sitcom written by Johnny Speight.

It would be hard to think of a more notable comedy hit series “for the wrong reasons”: Speight created Garnett in order to mock and denigrate a white stereotype – viz. unintelligent, dyed-in-the-wool, old-fashioned, working class, racist bigots – in which aim, incidentally, he (Speight) was highly successful.

However, simultaneously and ironically – partly because of the brilliance of Mitchell’s portrayal – Garnett’s racism, together with his visceral hatred of the Labour Party and left-wing political attitudes (as personified by actor Tony Booth playing Garnett’s scally-wag layabout son-in-law Mike Rawlins), was also immensely popular with the very elements of the British population that Speight was deliberately mocking.

A inferior companion in “dishonour” to Till Death Us Do Part was ITV’s sitcom Love Thy Neighbour (1972 to 1976, written by Vince Powell and Harry Driver, in which (essentially) a racist white family lived in permanent verbal “conflict” with its next-door neighbour black equivalent.

Its supposed saving grace was that the father in the black family usually “gave as good as he got” in trading racist insults with his white counterpart. Nevertheless, I think all who ever watched it would agree, it was a dreadful show both in conception and execution – even though in its time it certainly did well in the ratings.

The point I want to pick up today is that, in reviewing the output of Talking Pictures TV, my fellow Ruster mentioned the fact that – before the broadcast of one nostalgic show – the channel had felt it necessary to put out an apology/warning that some viewers might find aspects of the content offensive.

I was reminded of this earlier this week when by chance I found myself watching – on some cable channel or another – an old repeat showing of the prison system classic sitcom Porridge (BBC, 1974 to 1977), featuring the all-time great British comic Ronnie Barker as small-time recidivist criminal Norman Fletcher.

The episode concerned had several scenes set in the prison cell that Fletcher shared with Lennie Godber, played by actor Richard Beckinsale.

I couldn’t help noticing that the cable channel concerned – or indeed the BBC itself – had deemed fit to “censor” the episode being broadcast in order to satisfy the minds and sensitivities of those of us (like me?) who might be offended by “unhealthy attitudes from the past”.

Throughout the action taking place in the prison cell, in the background one couldn’t help noticing that the cell walls were liberally decorated with “Page Three”-type pages taken from The Sun newspaper.

However, the modern broadcaster had seen fit to “pixelate” out all the mammary glands of the “Page Three” lovelies that would have been on display to every viewer between the ages of 6 and 86 in the sitcom’s 1970s former heyday!

POSTSCRIPT

By way (hopefully) of potential diversion and/or amusement for some visitors to this organ, on YouTube yesterday I came across a short clip of an old television series featuring the Irish comedian Dave Allen.

The subject was religion and the arrival of Adam and Eve upon the Earth.

I guess that today Allen’s attitudes towards the differences between the sexes would be deeply offensive. I just found them hilarious – as clearly did his mixed-sex studio audience …

See here, courtesy of – YOUTUBE

 

About J S Bird

A retired academic, Jeremy will contribute article on subjects that attract his interest. More Posts

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