Last week the BBC released their draft editorial guidelines for the future of the corporation. Among this document, Section 5.4.31 to be precise, there is a passage which raised some questionable eyebrows towards the future of comedy at the BBC.
The paragraph in question reads;
“BBC content must respect human dignity. Intimidation, humiliation, intrusion, aggression and derogatory remarks are all aspects of human behaviour that may be discussed or included in BBC output. Some comedy can be cruel but unduly intimidatory, humiliating, intrusive, aggressive or derogatory remarks must not be celebrated for the purposes of entertainment.”
If we were to take these guidelines and apply them to the BBC’s rich history of comedy, how many examples can be found that would be in contravention of these rules?
It turns out quite a few; here is an example for each guideline…
Humiliating: lowering the pride, self-respect, or dignity of a person; mortifying: Such a humiliating defeat was good for his overblown ego.
1: The Office
The Scene: Gareth discovers with distaste that someone (Tim) has encased his stapler in jelly.
The Problem: Tim humiliates Gareth in front of David and the rest of the office by making fun of Gareth’s views towards office supplies.
Hilarious yes, but this scene could be seen as and example of bullying in the workplace and therefore not allowed.
Intimidatory: to make timid; fill with fear.
2: Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em
The Scene: Frank Spencer attempts to learn to drive.
The Problem: Frank’s sweet natured incompetence drives his instructor up the wall, in response; the instructor becomes annoyed and begins to intimidate Frank by yelling at him. Causing Frank to make even more mistakes.
Intrusive: tending or apt to intrude; coming without invitation or welcome: intrusive memories of a lost love.
3. Just For Laughs
The Scene: A sketch called the Royal Boot during which one actor, dressed as a Grenadier Guardsman, proceeds to kick another actor, dressed as a business man, up the backside as he walks by. The business man then proceeds to blame the member of the general public that had been walking alongside him at the time.
The Problem: In order to perform this sketch, the actors have to be able to intrude on the everyday life of commuters, tourists and people just going about their daily business, it’s also likely that none of the participants were asked if they would like to be in the sketch before it took place either.
Aggressive: characterized by or tending toward unprovoked offensives, attacks, invasions, or the like; militantly forward or menacing: aggressive acts against a neighbouring country.
4. Fawlty Towers
The Scene: Upon being told by Manuel that a spoon is clean, Basil proceeds to rub the spoon through Manuel’s hair before hitting him over the head with it in anger.
The Problem: The joke of this scene is simple, undue aggression towards a staff member, many other times in Fawlty Towers we see Basil in fits of rage towards his waiter for a vast number of reasons. Nearly all of which are unfair… poor Manuel.
Derogatory: tending to lessen the merit or reputation of a person or thing; disparaging; depreciatory: a derogatory remark.
5: Mock the week
The Scene: Frankie Boyle, while talking about the Beijing Olympics, makes a number of derogatory remarks about Double Gold winning swimmer Rebecca Adlington.
The Problem: Although Frankie Boyle is known for his dour and cutting style of humour, he is just one of a number of comedians who have formed jokes based around derogatory remarks.
Mock The Week was in fact reprimanded for this particular incident on Monday, as the original broadcast received 75 complaints from viewers.
The main question these new guidelines raise is simple, will the scenes exampled be deemed unsuitable in the future? If so, will that mean that any comedian who wants to make content that could be deemed controversial will have to leave the BBC in order to achieve their intended result.
If that is the case, how will BBC comedy compete as a provider of humour in the future? Or are these new guidelines just another sign of the Beeb’s reaction to the Sachsgate scandal that covered the media at the end of last year.