After the BBC quelled rumours of a Little Britain return, are we as far from the show’s stereotype-comedy as we think we are?
The BBC have quashed speculation of Little Britain’s return to their channel citing the shows “offensive characters”; is this what the right-wing press has called “giving into snowflakes” or is it the rightful condemnation of an outdated form of comedy? Little Britain first began life as a radio show on BBC Radio 4 before hitting our screens in 2003, airing for three award winning seasons up until 2005. The hit show won four BAFTA’s, two Emmys, and the “Most Popular Comedy'' at the National Television Awards three years in a row, but not without controversy. In a recent interview with The Sun, David Walliams fuelled speculation that the show will be returning in 2020, saying that “there will definitely be some more Little Britain coming”. But, contradictingly, Matt Lucas has previously said that he “wouldn’t make the show now”, as well as affirming that the articles written that assert the show’s return are merely rumours “as no comeback is actually confirmed”.
Although they disagree on the prospect of a return, both have agreed that the show would require change if it did, given “society has moved on a lot since then” as Matt Lucas said in The Big Issue. If the show were to return, which characters would emain? The classist portrayal of Vicky Pollard? The benefit cheat Andy? Or the racist depiction of a manipulated Thai bride Ting Tong? These characters dont just fall short of the mark - they blatantly ignore it. It’s almost unfathomable to imagine a return of these skin-crawling tropes in 2020. Maybe not even due to a lack of appetite in the general public as such but because a major channel simply won’t risk it, even if David Walliams has assured us that the show will be more “woke” upon its return.
The blasè notion of “woke culture” has however not led to a society less demonising than it was 15 years ago but those deemed acceptable to demonise has changed. Little Britain’s return to BBC Radio 4 in October last year, a Brexit special, was marred with hateful portrayals of ignorant Leavers, but this was largely ignored by critics. In their recent piece on the shows possible return The Guardian reference the variety of “tropes dripping with contempt” in the original episodes (which I wholeheartedly agree), yet their review of the radio special stated that the episode was “neutered by impartiality.”
It is not that people wouldn't laugh at Little Britain today. The 17 years that have passed since series one have not accomplished an eradication of racism, homophobia, and class divisions. Stereotypes in comedy are still just as prevalent on our screens; BBC programmes like Citizen Khan and This Country both play on stereotypes, but are not as controversial, as the characters are from the same ethnic background as the actors. Matt Lucas has previously said he “would never black up”, but that ignores the huge issues with the majority of the characters. Stereotypes, no matter the subject or the actor, act as a priming agent activating constructs that influence social judgments. For example, the recurring joke of Daffyd being the “only gay in the village” has become a line part of popular culture used as an attack line in the playground and wider society. Little Britain would have had a platform it didn’t deserve with the BBC, though it may still live on if another declining TV channel deems the risk adequate. The BBC have made the right call by ruling out a return of a comedy that normalises hate in a society bitterly divided.