Little Britain: Should we switch off the past?

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Little BritainImage source, BBC / Getty

Little Britain's disappeared from iPlayer and Britbox because "times have changed" since David Walliams and Matt Lucas first portrayed characters from different ethnic backgrounds on our TVs.

Hollywood classic Gone With the Wind was pulled from HBO Max because it depicted "ethnic and racial prejudices" that "were wrong then and are wrong today."

Leigh Francis recently apologised for the black characters he played in Bo' Selecta.

A debate's now going on about whether TV shows and films, like statues, should be removed if they seem to glorify a less enlightened past.

Or should they be left, perhaps with some added context, so the prejudices of TV times gone by can help inform a more understanding future?

There's no simple answer to that question.

But it's still one that many people will be asking.

Computer Says No

"I think it was a long overdue decision," says Micha Frazer-Carroll.

Micha's the opinions editor at Gal Dem magazine, which gives a platform to the perspectives of women of colour and non-binary people of colour.

"Growing up watching blackface on TV was really, really difficult as a young black girl," she tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.

"There's already a lack of representation for black women in the media and we don't see ourselves reflected. This kind of representation added insult to injury."

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Come Fly With Me

Comedian Raul Kohli spoke to Newsbeat about another David Walliams and Matt Lucas show which was also been pulled, Come Fly With Me.

There were complaints about the series when it aired in 2010 over its portrayal of racially stereotyped characters and the use of blackface.

Raul remembers watching "a stereotype of, like, your typical young South Indian who worked at Heathrow".

But he doesn't think the programme should be airbrushed from history.

"I think it's important for me to still see that now, and to keep that up with some sort of historical context," he says.

"When I compare Lucas's character to somebody like Chabuddy G (Asim Chaudry's character in People Just Do Nothing) it reminds me of how far we've come."

"It makes me see what we were up against five, ten, 15 years ago. We weren't being given voices. But now you can see those characters everywhere."

Cat and Mouse Context

Some broadcasters had already taken a look at their back catalogue, found problems and started to make changes years ago.

But the decision's been taken to keep some of that content available, with an explanation that it's - shall we say - of its time.

On some old Tom and Jerry animations you'll find a warning that they "may depict some ethnic and racial prejudices that were once commonplace in American society. Such depictions were wrong then and are wrong today."

That message has been in place in episodes since 2014.

Image source, LMPC via Getty
Image caption,
Some original Tom and Jerry cartoons contained stereotypical depictions of African-Americans.

And before you stream certain titles on Disney+ you might see the following message: "This program is presented as originally created. It may contain outdated cultural depictions."

But the service doesn't contain 1946 film Song of the South, with its dated racial stereotypes.

"It was just not appropriate in today's world," explained Disney chairman Bob Iger earlier this year.

And it would be more complicated to put a similar warning on Little Britain, which was on air most recently this very year.

Times have indeed changed, as the BBC pointed out in its statement. But have they really changed so much in a few short months?

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