The culture war has propelled us in unexpected directions at a dizzying rate. Matt Lucas and David Walliams have announced that they intend to resurrect Little Britain, but in the 12 years since its last episode the cultural landscape has shifted to such an extent that their famously grotesque caricatures are unlikely to be well received. As Lucas and Walliams have admitted, they will have to “do it differently because it’s a different time”.
Inevitably, the woke press have been quick to condemn the new series. Just as these commentators have mastered the ability to divine the secret motives of their political opponents, they have also developed a form of clairvoyance which enables them to pronounce judgement on creative endeavours in advance of their existence. The Guardian has produced two hit pieces in quick succession to bewail the return of this ‘problematic’ show. An article for Glamour claims that Little Britain’s brand of humour is ‘dangerous’ and that we should be “leaving behind an era we should all be ashamed of”. In a further twist, a source at the BBC has apparently said that a new series has been ‘ruled out’ because the show is too ‘offensive’. The claim has since been denied by friends of Lucas and Walliams but, if it turns out to be true, that means that the new series of Little Britain will have been announced, denounced and cancelled in the space of five days.
Like what you’re reading? Get the free UnHerd daily email
Already registered? Sign in
This tells us a great deal about the cultural climate we now occupy, one in which social media can catalyse a flurry of competing storms. Offence is a contemporary form of currency, and declarations of virtue are deemed an adequate substitute for virtuous acts. Little Britain was never to my taste, but there has never been a greater need for mainstream comedy that teases the limits of our tolerance. When the new series was mooted, the headline in The Sun posed the question: “Will it fall foul of PC killjoys?” The answer was never really in doubt.
One of the many problems with the identitarian Left is an apparent inability to assess art or comedy by anything other than ideological standards. A film is judged successful if it is sufficiently diverse and sends a positive message about social justice. This is why Avengers: Endgame was lambasted for its ‘fat shaming’ by The Guardian, in spite of Marvel’s desperate efforts at woke posturing. Ideologues demand purity, and mistakes are not to be brooked.
It is difficult, therefore, to see how a Little Britain that even remotely resembles the original series could possibly be forgiven were it to be broadcast today. Perhaps the solution will be to modify the targets according to the prevailing intersectional creeds. For all their censuring of ‘bullying’ comedy that ‘punches down’, the woke are happy to indulge in the most vicious forms of bullying so long as the targets are approved. Ageism is fine, for example, because elderly people voted for Brexit and tend to subscribe to outlandish and outdated belief systems. Many, for instance, insist that there are only two genders, or that obesity can lead to health problems. Whatever you say, boomers.
Attacks on working class people are also acceptable, of course. This is a consequence of the social justice movement’s poisonous influence on the left. Not only has it rehabilitated racial thinking and abused the principle of diversity in a way guaranteed to foster division, it has failed to prioritise its traditional mission of redressing economic inequality. In the early days of Little Britain, commentators for The Guardian and The Independent would often cite the character of Vicky Pollard — the tracksuit-clad teenage mother who swapped her baby for a Westlife CD — as an example of how Lucas and Walliams were ‘punching down’ at the oppressed. Owen Jones devoted a substantial part of his book Chavs to criticising what he perceived to be Little Britain’s damaging stereotypes.
Yet many of the leftists who took umbrage at such characterisations at the time are the same who now routinely demonise the working class in the name of progress. In today’s context, Vicky Pollard could work well as a satire of the kind of attitudes held by prominent left-wing columnists who dismiss working class people as ‘gammons’. For all their pretence that the slur was aimed at affluent Little Englanders, in practice it was mostly reserved for white Brexit voters on the very lowest incomes. In trendy metropolitan circles, it is now de rigueur to deride the working class as stupid and suggestible creatures, fuelled by race hatred, who can’t stop themselves from voting the wrong way. If Vicky Pollard does return, we might well expect to see her gloating about Brexit to her gammony friends, or spending her dole money on a tattoo of Boris Johnson.
And what of the other characters? How might they be sanitised to avoid the ire of a new generation of intersectional Mary Whitehouses? The padded bodysuits of Bubbles and Desiree would be considered fat-shaming; the masculine ‘ladies’ Emily and Florence would be deemed transphobic; the mail order bride Ting Tong would be dismissed as legitimising racist stereotypes. Caricatures are always offensive to somebody.
But a new series of Little Britain also has the potential to take aim at the intolerance of the identitarian Left and ‘cancel culture’, should the creators be inclined to take the risk. The character of Daffyd, the “only gay in the village”, was based on the type of gay man who is obsessed with victimhood, determined to detect prejudice even where it doesn’t exist. In the intervening years, overt homophobia has become far less common, while sensitivity to homophobia has increased. This means that the joke actually works better in today’s context, because the victim-centred social justice movement has spawned innumerable Daffyds, all desperate to denounce the homophobes of their imagination. But this is also why in a 2020 reimagining of Little Britain, Daffyd would probably be the first for the chop.
“Humour normalises thoughts and behaviours,” writes the author of Glamour magazine’s pre-emptive critique, “and we definitely don’t need bigotry any more normalised then [sic] it already is.” No evidence for this assertion is forthcoming. Like so many woke mantras, the idea that there is a causal link between entertainment and public behaviour is simply taken on faith. Comedy can flourish in this kind of puritanical atmosphere if comedians are willing to subvert the new dogmas. It will be interesting to see whether or not Little Britain makes it back to our screens and, if so, whether it will resist or embrace the new oligarchy of social justice.
Andrew Doyle will be touring the UK with Douglas Murray later this year for a live political discussion show “Resisting Wokeness”. Details available at resistingwokeness.com.
Join the discussion
To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.
Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.Subscribe