News, Culture & Society

DOMINIC LAWSON: Only three-quarters of BBC comedians are right-on Lefties? You are having a laugh!

A group called the Campaign For Common Sense revealed the result of an analysis of BBC comedy shows yesterday: last month, out of 141 comedians across 364 slots on such programmes as Have I Got News For You and Mock The Week, ’74 per cent of the slots were occupied by comedians with publicly pronounced Left-leaning, anti-Brexit, or ‘woke’ views’.

This amazed me. I would not have expected the figure to be that low. If asked to guess, I would have suggested 90 per cent — although this might reflect my own bias.

Or it might be because the one BBC comedy show (I use the term generously) that most intrudes on my viewing is something called The Mini Mash Report. 

The Mash Report on the BBC is presented by stand-up comedian Nish Kumar and is marketed as a comedy

It precedes Newsnight, so I often catch the end of it before submitting myself to that daily current affairs obligation.

Booed

Presented by Nish Kumar, The Mini Mash Report is marketed as comedy but characterised by what are little more than boilerplate left-of-centre speeches.

For example, this is Kumar riffing on the Conservatives’ economic legacy: ‘After the crash of 2008, the economy was in trouble and George Osborne combated that by cutting state spending to the bone and lowering taxes for high earners and for corporations, passing the burden for paying off the recession to the poorest people. 

How do you interpret that as anything other than political choice masquerading as economic necessity?’ No, you had to be there: it’s the way he tells them.

The audience in the studio do seem to fall about when Kumar does his little speeches. I wonder, though, how it goes down outside his fan club.

A glimpse was provided a year ago when he did one of his set pieces at a lunch for the Lord’s Taverners cricket charity.

The BBC show Mock the Week, hosted by Dara Ó Briain (centre), sees panellists satirise events in the news

The BBC show Mock the Week, hosted by Dara Ó Briain (centre), sees panellists satirise events in the news

Comedian Jo Brand hosting the BBC programme Have I Got News For You in 2020

Comedian Jo Brand hosting the BBC programme Have I Got News For You in 2020

It is a good cause and Kumar did his stint unpaid. All the same, I was not surprised to learn he had a bread roll thrown at him (it missed) and was booed off after he launched into one of his stock anti-Brexit tirades.

At such events, people want genuine comedy, not predictable political rants. But it’s worse when the BBC does this, because the whole nation is paying for it via the licence fee: and it’s clear that by calling it ‘comedy’, this is a way of getting round the statutory requirement for impartiality.

Worse still, BBC2 has for months been repeating nightly so-called ‘highlights’ from earlier series of The Mash Report, with the result that this political tendentiousness doesn’t even have the merit of topicality.

I turned on last week to find an episode with a big picture of ‘Prime Minister’ Theresa May in the backcloth and an encomium to the anti-Brexit reporter Carole Cadwalladr (who was part of the now defunct campaign to overturn the referendum result).

The audience cheered as her attack on the Leave campaigner Arron Banks was quoted verbatim. 

Stop press: last month Cadwalladr was forced to tweet an abject apology for her claim that Banks ‘had been found to break the law’. So this is not just politics masquerading as comedy: it is stale, wrong and abjectly lazy programming.

Comedian Jeremy Hardy

Actress Tracey Ullman

Comedian Jeremy Hardy (left) regularly entertained fans with his rants on The News Quiz and his monologues on Jeremy Hardy Speaks to The Nation and Jeremy Hardy Feels It. Meanwhile Tracey Ullman (right) rose to prominence with A Kick up the Eighties

Untruth

In that same hopelessly outdated episode of The Mini Mash Report broadcast last week, Kumar denounced the impartiality rule of the BBC as a requirement to provide ‘a platform for widely-discredited views because the licence fee dictates we should pander to weirdos’.

It is for this reason, the item went on, that ‘Tommy Robinson is always being interviewed on the BBC’. 

This is just a lie. Whoever writes these scripts must know that the far-right rabble-rouser has very rarely been given a platform on the BBC. 

But this untruth suits Kumar: he can then argue that his own allegedly satirical rants are a necessary counterweight to the racists his programme asserts are ‘always . . . on the BBC’.

I have no problem with creative Left-wing satire. I admired the sharpness of the late Jeremy Hardy, a stalwart of various BBC radio comedy shows — and a member of the Socialist Alliance, a sort of coalescence of the Socialist Workers Party and the Communist Party of Great Britain.

I enjoyed talking with him after we both appeared on the same edition of another BBC radio comedy show. 

He helpfully advised me on how to make the most of the tax deductions available to freelancers, and went on to tell me how he had even managed to claim some of his dental repair bills against tax.

If I were a satirist, it would have provided me with great material for a sketch about the hypocrisy of Left-wingers who criticise ‘Tory tax cuts’ while doing everything they can to shield their own earnings from being used to finance the public services.

Merciless

In fact, the BBC has in recent years been able to broadcast a series of shows by one comedian who, though apparently a longstanding Labour Party supporter, shows not the slightest overall bias in her (brilliant) sketches. That is Tracey Ullman.

She was merciless in her skits about the Tories Jacob Rees-Mogg and Michael Gove, but the likes of Nicola Sturgeon and Jeremy Corbyn were also the targets of her remarkable impressions.

The new BBC Director-General, Tim Davie, has shown signs of subjecting the corporation's comedy (and so-called comedy) to what might be described as an audit of representativeness

The new BBC Director-General, Tim Davie, has shown signs of subjecting the corporation’s comedy (and so-called comedy) to what might be described as an audit of representativeness

Perhaps unsurprisingly, some of the latter’s supporters complained that the Jewish comedian David Baddiel had written the bit satirising the row over anti-Semitism in the Labour Party (he hadn’t, but so what if he had?) and that Ullman is Jewish (she isn’t).

It showed what unpleasantness can lie in wait for comedians who so unfashionably dare to poke fun at the doctrinaire Left.

The good news is that the new BBC Director-General, Tim Davie, has shown signs of subjecting the corporation’s comedy (and so-called comedy) to what might be described as an audit of representativeness. 

Or, as he put it recently, its comedy ‘should not come from a platform where there is an assumed point of view’.

He’s got the point. Now we’ll see if he makes any difference.

Why a no-deal Brexit may not be such hard cheese

The most unpalatable consequence of a so-called ‘no-deal’ Brexit, we are often told, is that our food bills will increase, because tariffs on farm products are especially high.

On cheese, the rate charged between the UK and the European Union could be as steep as 57 per cent.

But we cheese-lovers (and I am a gluttonous consumer of the stuff) need not despair. 

In recent years, British producers have moved far beyond the familiar home-produced staples such as Cheddar and Stilton. 

Winslade cheese

Burwash Rose cheese

On cheese, the rate charged between the UK and the European Union could be as steep as 57 per cent. Pictured: Winslade cheese (left) and Burwash Rose cheese (right)

While not approaching the astonishing range of French cheeses (General de Gaulle complained: ‘How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?’), there are some wonderful new examples which yield nothing in quality to those of our European neighbour.

There is Somerset Brie, which is every bit as good as the (original) French version in our supermarkets. 

And if you are a fan of Vacherin Mont D’Or — a traditional favourite at this time of the year — I urge you to try Winslade, a superb near-equivalent made by Stacey Hedges in Hampshire. The other day I delightedly consumed an entire one in a single sitting (I told you I am a glutton).

In my own neck of the woods, Sussex, there is the delicious Blue Clouds from the Balcombe Dairy. 

If you like Gorgonzola Dolce, this is one for you. And almost on our doorstep, there is the gloriously pungent Burwash Rose: I have collected it from the dairy itself, which is as good as it gets.

That is not possible for all shoppers, obviously: but if ‘no-deal’ Brexit does happen, I would expect our supermarkets to step up to the cheese plate and promote these heavenly English varieties.

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