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Home > Media

Journojism: Little Britain, single mums and Stanley Baxter

18 December 2004

'Watching Little Britain, you come away with this slimy feeling, as if you've been watching a fox hunt, only in this case the 'animals' being torn apart are the poorest, most helpless members of our society.'

So writes a rather overwrought Barbara Ellen in the Observer, taking issue with the number of sketches in Little Britain featuring gay people, fat people and the underclass, as represented by the babbling white trash teenager Vicky Pollard. And you thought it was just a hit-and-miss comedy show? How wrong can you get. They're hunting humans, for God's sake!

If there's anything wrong with Little Britain, it's probably the endless repetition of the same characters, but you've got to admit it is a bit over-reliant on the idea that being gay and/or fat is intrinsically hilarious. But what really gets Ms Ellen's goat is Vicky Pollard and the idea of sneering middle-class comedians getting a cheap laugh by stereotyping the working class/underclass. Unfortunately Ellen comes out with exactly the sort of balanced, earnest dullness that un-PC humour is a reaction against:

'In truth, the feckless yobbish teen mum has only ever been a recognisable type to people who want her to be. Some teenage single mums are completely hopeless I'm sure - just the same as some older wealthier mums - but I'd wager a lot more are unsung heroines, struggling every day to build lives for their children on naff all money and with little or no help.'

Well, yeah, we agree. Not many of us think that teen mums are in the employ of Al Quaeda or Satan. But despite this justifiable criticism of stereotypes, is it so wrong to take the piss out of the underclass, or to use the correct sociological term, chav scum?

It kind of depends on what you're taking the piss out of. TFT has always thought chavs are fair game. Like most people, when we slag the chavs, we're slagging the yob behaviour and the inexplicable popularity of vile nylon'n'Burberry fashions. It's not the same as sneering at someone because they're poor, which isn't very hilarious at all. Look at those poor people! They're bringing up children in a house that isn't fit for human habitation! Oh the hilarity.

The problem with Little Britain isn't that it's inciting hatred against anyone (and you'd have to be a bit strange to commit hate crimes after watching a comedy show. 'The only gay in the village? He's a sick pervert who needs to be put down like a mad dog. But very funny'), it's that any show that relies on tired comedy standbys rapidly starts to grate.

Blokes in dresses, outrageously camp gays... it's less cutting-edge comedy and more of a throwback to Dick Emery and the faintly sinister Stanley Baxter, a man who, as this contributor's mum suspiciously pointed out, 'likes dressing up as a woman a bit too much'. We can only hope that after sophisticated shows like The Office or Peep Show, comedy isn't sliding back to the days when you could base an entire show on a speech impediment or a bloke who's afraid of his wife.

But the other problem with Barbara Ellen's comments is that they're a kind of retreat into an intellectually untroubling world of bland liberalism. Hey, stop the stereotyping! Crap parents come from all social classes!

But while Little Britain doesn't portray real people, or even realistic people, some of the humour comes from recognition. The 'only gay in the village' is a comic exaggeration of those gay people who define themselves almost exclusively by their sexuality. They exist - we've met them. And most of us have encountered an only-slightly-less horrific version of Vicky Pollard too.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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