Little Britain and Come Fly With Me are no longer available to stream on Netflix, BBC iPlayer or BritBox. In the wake of the latest Black Lives Matter protest and growing conversations about race, these Lucas and Walliams comedies have been taken down.
A recent statement issued by the BBC said “There’s a lot of historical programming available on BBC iPlayer, which we regularly review,” a BBC spokesperson said in a statement. “Times have changed since Little Britain first aired so it is not currently available on BBC iPlayer.”
At the height of its popularity, Little Britain was a show that was lauded by the British public for it’s “hilarious” contrast between the elegant voiceover and the grotesquely satirised characters. The show features sketches which focus on different characters; Daffyd, a man who longs to be “the only gay in the village”, Marjorie Dawes, leader of “The Fat Fighters”, and transgender friends Florence and Emily. Already rife with homophobia, fatphobia and transphobia, the show also makes use of blackface to depict the character of Desiree DeVere.
Similarly, the show Come Fly With Me, released in the early 2010s, is a mockumentary set in a fictional airport and aims to parody once-popular airport documentaries. The show gained enormous popularity, despite its offensive depiction of racist stereotypes. Perhaps the most famous character of the series is Precious, the Caribbean coffee shop owner depicted by Matt Lucas in blackface. Other characters such as Taj and Moses feature Lucas and Walliams in brownface, and one episode features them in yellowface.
In 2017, Matt Lucas spoke out about his use of blackface, as well as the portrayal of gender non-conforming people in his comedy shows. Speaking to The Big Issue, Lucas stated “Basically, I wouldn’t make [Little Britain] now. It would upset people. We made a more cruel kind of comedy than I’d do now. Society has moved on a lot since then and my own views have evolved.” After vocalising his support for the Black Lives Matter movement on Twitter over the last month, on June 13th, David Walliams tweeted “Matt & I have both spoken publicly in recent years of our regret that we played characters of other races. Once again we want to make it clear that it was wrong & we are very sorry.”
Just as it took the toppling of the Edward Colston statue in Bristol to begin a conversation and call for other statues to be removed, the removal of Lucas and Walliams comedies has begun a chain reaction in the world of comedy. Netflix have also made the decision to remove The Mighty Boosh and several Chris Lilley comedies due to the use of blackface and offensive depiction of racial stereotypes.
Looking back, it is difficult to believe that this level of racism was tolerable, let alone considered funny, in years as recent as 2011. These earlier mockumentaries rely on cheap “laughs” at the expense of ethnic minorities, the LGBTQ+ community and the working class. The social media reaction to their removal has been seismic; the anticipated uproar from right-wing accounts, but also the visceral reaction of young progressives, shocked not only that this content was produced in their lifetime, but also that they hadn’t questioned it when they were younger.
While some may see this as simply the latest tirade of the PC brigade, many would beg to differ. The removal of these shows from streaming services is the digital equivalent of the toppling of statues dedicated to racists and slave owners throughout the world: the idea that “things were different back then” is no excuse for the commemoration of this behaviour. Racism and the perpetuation of racist stereotypes have no place in modern society.
Words by Joanna Magill