Saturday 22 October 2016

Ian O'Doherty: Calm down! Calm down! Harry loses some chums

Published 19/05/2014 | 02:30

The Scousers: Liverpool fans were happy to get in on the gag
The Scousers: Liverpool fans were happy to get in on the gag
Apology: Sepp Blatter
Whistleblower: Edward Snowden

2014 is the 50th anniversary of BBC2 and they have been busy raiding their archives for classic footage as well as commissioning new material.

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So it's no surprise that Beeb stalwarts Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse have returned for a one-off special, Harry And Paul: A Story Of The Twos.

Due to be broadcast this Sunday, it's likely that the show we see will be rather different to the one they actually shot. Because Enfield has decided to give Jeremy Clarkson a hand and become embroiled in his own race row – a distraction for which the Top Gear presenter will surely be grateful.

Not only has Enfield blacked up as the singer, Harry Belafonte, but the sketch show also features a character in a burqa.

Right on cue, and responding with the kind of Pavlovian zeal which makes these groups so entertaining, Pippa Smith, from Safer Media, squawked that the programme "risks stoking racial and ethnic tensions...Is Harry Enfield just going out of his way to be controversial by using a young girl dressed in a burqa meeting a boy dressed in a Pingu costume for his sketch? He is no longer funny and the BBC has lost the plot."

Not for the first time, groups such as Safer Media have found themselves making a daft row a delightful one – after all, it must be hard to maintain a straight face and a pursed lip when you're issuing dire warnings about a race war involving Pingu.

Enfield has been forced to kill characters before, of course. In 2008 he was warned against using a creation called Father Paddy – a paedophile priest. It's hard to imagine who would find that offensive, unless they were the same kind of people who loudly, and hilariously, voiced their objections to Father Ted when it first aired.

Those people – mostly second-generation Irish living in Britain – were rightly derided as Irish people took the sitcom to their hearts with even greater ardour than the English did. But how will the English deal with the sight of him dressed in black face as 'Barry Helafonte'?

Critics are already lining up to accuse him of either 'cultural appropriation' or old-fashioned racism.

But nobody said he was being racist when he dressed up as Nelson Mandela a few years ago.

Nobody from Liverpool complained about the brilliantly demented The Scousers – in fact, plenty of Liverpool fans were happy to get in on the gag by chanting 'calm down, calm down' and wearing the wigs to Anfield. Well I assume they were wigs, but I suppose you never know with that lot.

Comedy nerds of a certain age – or apprentice comedy nerds who have access to Gold – will remember The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer and their take on Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye – two black puppets bickering with each other in thick Teeside accents.

It was impossible to take offence at such determined silliness, but I suppose a decade is a long time and our collective skin seems to have become thinner by the year.

But let's be consistent – if you are uncomfortable with a white guy impersonating a black man, what's your position on a white man pretending to be a white woman?

After all, what's the difference between an Austrian bloke called Tom putting on a dress and passing himself off as a woman called Conchita? And, to add insult to injury, he didn't even bother shaving. Was that not offensive to women everywhere, particularly hirsute women?

The point is that people tend to be very selective in what they choose to be offended by.

Because I've no doubt that the vast majority of those who basked in the warm glow of their own tolerance as they voted for Conchita would be horrified if someone had suggested they vote for a white guy pretending to be black.

Of course, I am angry that the bearded laddy won.

But that's only because I thought the Dutch song was a cracking, Cock Robin-esque tune.



So, the charming Sepp Blatter has finally apologised for handing the World Cup to Qatar, the charming stretch of sand which sees temperatures of 40 degrees in the summer.

Frankly, the only sport that should ever be held in Qatar is camel chasing, but now Blatter finally admitted the SNAFU with a typically grudging admission: "It was a mistake. But one makes lots of mistakes in life."

Well, you do when your name is Sepp Blatter, that's for sure.



One of the many joys of watching Russia Today is how they treat Edward Snowden as a true hero, when the reality is that if he had been Russian he would have had a quick bullet to the back of the head – if he was lucky.

In fact, rather than providing sanctuary for an international refugee of conscience, it emerges that the Russians are charging him for his room and board and he can only stay in the country for as long as he has info that interests them.

So, if they do kick him out, get ready for all the usual suspects in Ireland to demand that we grant him asylum.

And if he really plays his cards right, he might even be made an honorary member of Aosdana.

Lucky lad.

Twitter: @ian_odoherty

Irish Independent

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