Sunday 4 December 2016

'Downton Abbey is popular in America because there are no black people in it' - claims Dame Edna creator Barry Humphries

Sasha Brady

Published 05/01/2016 | 11:09

The cast of Downton Abbey bowed out of the hit series after five years in which the ITV show became a global phenomenon (ITV/PA)
The cast of Downton Abbey bowed out of the hit series after five years in which the ITV show became a global phenomenon (ITV/PA)

Famed comic and actor Barry Humphires has claimed that racism in America has increased viewership in Downton Abbey.

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Racism the explanation behind Downton Abbey's popularity in America, as far as Barry Humphries is concerned.

he comic actor, famed for his Dame Edna Everage persona, made the suggestion in a magazine interview when he was asked: “Why do you think Downton Abbey is so popular in the States?” The 81 year-old Australian told the Radio Times: “Because there are no black people in it.”

Downton Abbey which began its sixth and final series for American viewers on the PBS network on Sunday, is watched by 26 million in the US.

Barry Humphries - seen in character as Dame Edna Everage - criticised a
Barry Humphries - seen in character as Dame Edna Everage - criticised a "new puritanism" in television

The period drama is set in the Yorkshire country estate between 1912 and 1925 and the region and time is not noted for its multiculturalism.

The production company Carnival Films have struggled with the lack of diversity in the show and introduced the character of Jack Ross, a charismatic black jazz singer and bandleader, played by Gary Carr, in series four.

Writer Julian Fellowes said he would only introduce more black and Asian characters if he could do so in a way that was “historically believable.”

Gareth Neame, executive producer, has said the series had a duty to depict the class system as it was – and “Britain was not a multicultural country in 1920”.

“The servants would really have had absolutely no exposure to a black person whatsoever,” he has said, adding that making the series more multicultural would have been an exercise in “box-ticking”.

Michelle Obama, Whoopi Goldberg and P Diddy are all said to be fans of the show. The First Lady begged ITV to send her advanced DVDs of the series because she could not wait for the show to reach American channels. She also invited the entire cast to tour the White House.

Humphires comments are disproved by the fact that Empire was the fifth most watched show in America last year, with more than 17 million viewers, and has an almost entirely non-white cast.

In 2003, the Australian star lost his Vanity Fair agony aunt column for a remark made in the February issue.

As Dame Edna, he responded to a question asking if learning Spanish was a good idea with: "Why Spanish, who would you talk to - your maid?"

Many took offence, including Mexican actress Salma Hayek who penned a critical letter in response.

Humphries blamed the uproar on political correctness.

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