Ant and Dec sorry for impersonating 'people of colour'

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Ant and DecImage source, Graham Eva

Ant and Dec have apologised for impersonating "people of colour" on Saturday Night Takeaway.

The duo concealed their real identities with darker make-up and prosthetics in order to pull pranks on famous people.

In a statement on Wednesday, they said they were "sincerely sorry" and had requested ITV remove the 2003 and 2004 sketches from its catch-up service.

Their apology follows widespread Black Lives Matter protests, in the US and the UK, over the death of George Floyd.

"During past episodes of Saturday Night Takeaway we impersonated people of colour in the Undercover segment of the show," they wrote in a statement.

"We realise that this was wrong and want to say that we are sincerely sorry to everyone that we offended."

They added: "We purposely stopped doing this several years ago and certainly would not make these sketches today."

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The presenting pair dressed up as two fictional Jamaican women, Patty and Bernice, during a segment in 2003, and as two Japanese girls, Suki and Keiko, the year after, adopting fake accents.

In January, Ant and Dec won their 19th consecutive presenting award, at the National Television Awards.

But it's not the first time this year that they have had to apologise for causing cultural offence on their primetime weekend show.

In March, they both wore headbands that featured the Japanese Rising Sun flag - seen by some as a symbol of Japan's imperialist past - during a martial arts inspired performance alongside pop singer Anne Marie.

Their latest apology arrives just days after the BBC removed the popular comedy Little Britain from streaming sites due to objections resurfacing regarding some of the sketch show's similarly outdated characters.

On Wednesday, BBC director general Tony Hall said creators Matt Lucas and David Walliams had agreed with the decision.

"We are constantly looking at what we have in our archive and thinking, is it still appropriate?" Lord Hall told BBC Radio 4 Front Row.

"Times move on. Indeed I think David and Matt, who made the programme, felt that times had moved on as well. It was acknowledged by them. So we're constantly keeping this under review, and that's why the decision has been made."

'Acceptable at the time'

However, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said he would not have removed the series, which was originally broadcast between 2003-2008.

"The BBC have editorial independence, and it wouldn't have been my choice, but that's up to the BBC," he told ITV's Robert Peston. "I'm not going to second-guess them all the time."

Asked about the sketches in question last November, Walliams told BBC arts editor Will Gompertz that blacking up was acceptable at the time - but it was "probably the right thing" that people don't do it any more.

"It was acceptable at some point about 15 years ago because lots of other comedians were doing it at the time, and now it's become unacceptable again," he said.

"It was unacceptable, then it was acceptable, then it was unacceptable again, so it's quite interesting how that has shifted. I don't exactly know why, but I think it's good that people express what they want to see and what they don't want to see - it's perfectly reasonable."

Last week, comedian Leigh Francis issued an emotional apology for having made himself up as black celebrities in the noughties impression show Bo' Selecta.

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