Libby Purves attacks BBC Comedy Controller over Monty Python diversity remarks
Shane Allen suggested that the show would not be commissioned today as it not diverse enough.
Broadcaster and writer Libby Purves has accused the BBC’s Comedy Controller of “virtue-signalling” after he suggested the Monty Python team would struggle to get on TV today because they were “six Oxbridge white blokes”.
Shane Allen made the remarks in June as he unveiled a raft of new shows that the corporation will air in the coming months, including an all-women sketch show.
He explained during his presentation that he wanted to commission programmes with untold stories from “a diverse range of people who reflect the modern world”.
He added: “I think we’ve heard the metropolitan, educated experience. I think it’s about how original a voice you have over what school you went to.”
Writing in a column for Radio Times magazine, Purves, herself a graduate of Oxford University, slammed Allen for “pious, reverse discrimination”.
She wrote: “Is there any spectacle more depressing, more Dad-dance and David Brent, than an artfully stubbled BBC commissioner smugly bigging up his ‘diversity’ cred?
“Worse still when he is the controller through whom all new comedy must pass. For him the ‘metropolitan, educated experience’ is out, also the ‘male middle-aged life crisis’ (hard luck Hancock and Reggie Perrin).”
She added that different styles of comedy appealed to different audiences and suggested society was “with the kindest of intentions, building a world of rules and formulae and fences. Even around laughter.”
Before joining the BBC in 2012, Allen was head of comedy at Channel of 4. He has since commissioned programmes including Peter Kay’s Car Share and Mrs Brown’s Boys for BBC One.
For the same channel he also passed two programmes inspired by 1970s sitcoms starring Ronnie Barker – Porridge 2017 and Still Open All Hours.
Former Python comic John Cleese reacted to Allen’s comments by saying on social media: “Unfair! We were remarkably diverse for our time.
“We had three grammar-school boys, one a poof, and Gilliam, though not actually black, was a Yank. And NO slave-owners.”
BBC's Head of Comedy puts Monty Python's lack of originality down to a surfeit of education and racist bias— John Cleese (@JohnCleese) June 20, 2018
Unfair ! We were remarkably diverse FOR OUR TIME
We had three grammar-school boys, one a poof, and Gilliam, though not actually black, was a Yank. And NO slave-owners
His former fellow Python, Terry Gilliam, also expressed his anger when asked about the debate, saying that comedy should not be assembled.
The director also mockingly said during a press conference at a film festival: “I tell the world now I’m a black lesbian.”
Purves’ full column can be read in this week’s edition of Radio Times magazine.