BBC killjoys try to clamp down on smutty jokes

Tim Brooke-Taylor.     Photograph by Hattie Miles
Tim Brooke-Taylor. Photograph by Hattie Miles

It was good to hear Tim Brooke-Taylor ridiculing the “pathetic” BBC  killjoys who reportedly told I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue chairman Jack Dee to tone-down the BBC Radio 4 show’s famously innuendo-laden jokes.

In a recent interview with that well-know purveyor of scandal and gossip, Cotswold Life magazine, Tim revealed that the BBC had suffered a sense of humour failure after a listener complained about the smutty jokes made at the expense of the show’s fictional score-keeper  and record researcher Samantha. As a result Jack Dee had threatened to quit. Cue a flurry of national newspaper stories.

Cotswold Life, name-checked in every article, must be delighted. You can’t buy that sort of publicity. Tim Brooke-Taylor meanwhile will be shaking his head in bemusement. Me too. With my publicists hat on I set that particular interview up.  It seemed about as mundane as possible. Tim would give the magazine a half hour or so interview in advance of his appearance in his An Audience With Tim Brooke-Taylor stage show at the Stratford Upon Avon Literary Festival.

Neither of us could have anticipated the coverage that ensued.  Tim had told the magazine. “We’ve had terrible trouble with the BBC about the show. Someone complained about Samantha – that it was being rude to women – and told us we had to be careful about this and to not do that.

“The writer who does Jack Dee’s links said, ‘Well, in that case, I’m leaving’, and Jack said, ‘Well, I’m leaving, too’. It’s just so pathetic, as so many things are double entendre that kids don’t realise what we’re on about,”

Jack Dee - not quitting
Jack Dee – not quitting

Not exactly incendiary stuff, particularly as Dee’s agent subsequently denied that the comedian had any intention of leaving the show. Plus the BBC appears have reconsidered the matter and, as far as anyone can tell, the show will continue unrestrained.

The story still excited broadsheets and red-tops alike and then went viral on social media. I am fascinated that this particular piece of tittle-tattle instantly did the rounds whereas far more outrageous statements and revealing interviews often go absolutely nowhere.

Of course what this story does do is hit a nerve. We live in a divided society where unchecked political correctness threatens, among other things, to stifle harmless entertainment. The character of Samantha was originally introduced by I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue’s  former chairman Humphrey Lyttelton some 30 years ago. It has proved a vehicle for wonderfully inventive double entendre ever since. Delivered in the spirit of a saucy seaside postcard, the Samantha jokes have been heard by millions of listeners without complaint.  Until now that is.

Full marks to Tim, who would never condone anything that was demeaning to women, for standing up for wittily fashioned, smartly delivered British smut. This humour is part of a tradition that dates back to Chaucer and Shakespeare and has become an essential part of our culture through music hall comedians like Max Miller, McGill postcards and the Carry On films.  No one is insulting women. To suggest that the Samantha jokes – masterpieces of wordplay – are  insulting is political correctness gone mad.


Author: Jeremy Miles

Writer, journalist, photographer, arts and theatre critic and occasional art historian.

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