KILLED OFF BY THE FORCES OF POLITICAL CORRECTNESS AND BUREAUCRATS WHO ARE BEYOND PARODY ... the Death of British Humour

Daily Mail (London), September 12, 2006 | Go to article overview

KILLED OFF BY THE FORCES OF POLITICAL CORRECTNESS AND BUREAUCRATS WHO ARE BEYOND PARODY ... the Death of British Humour


Byline: LEO MCKINSTRY

THE famous British sense of humour has long been our most cherished national characteristic. We have valued it above historic military victories and great works of literature, above our rich scenic landscape and our talent for invention.

Comedians, not generals or sports stars or scientists or politicians, are the truly loved public figures of Britain. We sneer at other countries, especially Germany, which we believe lack our gift for humour.

'He's a good laugh,' is the warmest personal accolade any individual can receive from friends. Our ability to make a joke of anything is supposed to have seen us through wars and crises, saved us from revolution and political extremism.

The spirit of the Blitz in the Forties, when the Luftwaffe was laying waste to large swathes of urban Britain, was based on the determination to 'keep smiling through', even in the face of terrible adversity.

But, sadly, there are signs that the great British sense of humour is no longer what it once was. The eagerness for laughs seems to be receding, increasingly replaced by a mixture of priggishness and grievance.

According to a survey recently conducted by the national tourist authority VisitBritain, foreigners coming here now feel that we are 'arrogant, unfriendly and have almost no sense of humour'. In this poll conducted among 35 nationalities, some tourists rated us the least funny people in the world.

Zut alors, c'est impossible!

Accusing the British of having no sense of humour is like telling Rolls-Royce that its cars are downmarket.

Humour is meant to be our national lifeblood. But I have to say that I agree with the foreign respondents.

For years, I have detected that something has gone badly wrong in Britain's humour department.

I see it in the tragic decline in British TV comedy. Once the finest in the world, it has become an embarrassment destroyed by political correctness and reduced to depending on shock values.

The recent BBC series TittyBang-Bang, a women's sketch show, set a new benchmark in this. Among its regular characters were an elderly pervert with a fetish for urine, a female forensic pathologist who was also a necrophiliac and a teacher who gave classes in erotic dancing to primary schoolchildren.

I also see it in the hectic, humourless and often aggressive manner in which we now lead our lives, especially in the cities.

There seems to be a growing reluctance to exchange a joke or a smile.

The contrast with France, where I have spent some time in recent months, could hardly be more glaring. There, the local newsagent, baker and grocer seem only too keen to make a quip and have a laugh, despite the poor quality of my French.

The real thorn in all this is the influence of political correctness. The ruthlessly enforced official dogma of multiculturalism, with its emphasis on social divisions, means that we no longer have a sense of shared values in Britain. And without that collective norm, we cannot all laugh at the same things.

This is nothing to do with ethnicity, as some commentators might piously claim. It is do with a mutual spirit of belonging, which cultural diversity has destroyed.

The brilliant black Yorkshire comic Charlie Williams, who died last week, achieved huge success largely because he could talk to his northern audiences in their language about shared experiences of growing up in the Depression and the Blitz. He was also superb at dealing with racism. To hecklers in his workingmen's clubs, he would say: 'You just be careful, otherwise I'll move in next door to you,' simultaneously exposing and puncturing their prejudice. …

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