As another actor of a certain age passes away, I have pause for thought. British comedy, since at least the 1950’s, has been a product of the era it represented. That means Hancock in the 50’s, That was the Week that Was in the 60’s and Python in the 70’s. Fawlty Towers, which played between ’76 and ’79, was even more a product of that time period, because it combined the anarchy of the Flying Circus with a comedy trope that had been established with programmes such as Love Thy Neighbour.
This was how the English dealt with people who weren’t English.
You could argue it was a colonial hangover, that portraying people not born and bred here was always going to have this element of distrust and sometimes abuse. It would take quite some time before it wasn’t about making fun of people because of where they came from was considered acceptable… except, hang on, no. That’s still happening. TV shows might no longer use race, sex and place of birth as means to make fun of other people, but it doesn’t seem to be stopping politicians. I’d post that clip of the Orange Man mocking disability as an example but fuck that for a game of soldiers.
Sometimes, you don’t focus on what is funny and instead look for a bigger meaning.
Language can be funny, yet the best bits of Fawlty Towers were physical, to the point where you could argue a clip round the ear solves nothing. However, there were clever pieces of interplay, using Spanish and misunderstanding thereof as humour. Nobody will ever fault that Andrew Sachs was a superb actor, and I’m not here to say anything else about that. Bernard Manning was a comedian, but now is often considered a liability. Rolf Harris was an entertainer, but won’t now ever be remembered as that. All of this is seen with hindsight, and that colours certain sections of history with a far less flattering light.
What worries me more is that people have short memories, and forget how shit it is to treat ANYONE badly. I don’t want to go back to the 1940’s, the 60’s or the 70’s please. In fact, the further we pull ourselves away from the Dark Ages, the better it will be for EVERYBODY. So, remember this. At the time it was funny and, for many people who like to indulge in a level of nostalgia as a means to deal with current issues, it still is. That doesn’t make it free of criticism, and it certainly shouldn’t be used as an example of how comedy is universal.
This country looks inward more than it really should, and still has an awful lot to learn about foreign relations.