Purge: Little Britain Removed by BBC and BritBox Over Blackface Sketches

Little Britain Memoryholed

Britbox, the self-styled “best of British” television on-demand service, and the BBC streaming website have removed two series from Matt Lucas and David Williams over sketches which featured the comedy duo in blackface.

The move to take down Little Britain and Come Fly With Me came after the streaming service Netflix decided to pull the two comedy series amidst an ongoing purge associated with demands of anti-racism groups.

On Monday, the BBC and BritBox both confirmed the move to drop the comedy programmes, saying that the “times have changed” since the shows were initially broadcast, according to the Daily Mail. In both cases, the programmes were only recently created, being first broadcast between 17 and 10 years ago.

Both David Williams and Matt Lucas appeared in blackface in the programs, in satirical representations of racial minorities for the purpose of comedic effect. Broadly, both programmes relied on portraying modern Britain as grotesque and crass for comedic effect, barbs which seem to have backfired in time on the creators.

“There’s a lot of historical programming available on BBC iPlayer, which we regularly review. Times have changed since Little Britain first aired so it is not currently available on BBC iPlayer,” a BBC spokesperson said.

BritBox, the streaming service from ITV and the BBC, said in a statement: “Times have changed since Little Britain first aired, so it is not currently available on BritBox. Come Fly With Me has not been available on the service for six months.”

In November of 2019, Britbox also banned British comedies Till Death Do Us Part and It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum as they were deemed too offensive for sensitive modern sensibilities.

Earlier this year, Williams and Lucas were reportedly offered £3 million from Netflix to write a new series of Little Britain, according to The Times. The status of such a deal is uncertain after the streaming service removed the original series last week.

Matt Lucas has previously stated that were Little Britain to be revived for a comeback series, he would refrain from portraying characters from minority backgrounds, saying in 2017: “Basically, I wouldn’t make that show now. It would upset people. We made a more cruel kind of comedy than I’d do now.”

David Williams for his part also said that he would “definitely do it differently” to conform with the modern political and cultural mores.

The British comedian took to social media over the weekend to repost footage of a historical statue being toppled over and destroyed by Black Lives Matter protests in Bristol, posting apparently without irony.

The move to ban the show comes less than a month after American comedian Jimmy Fallon was forced to apologise for appearing in blackface in a 20-year-old Saturday Night Live sketch that was recirculated on social media by outraged users.

Follow Kurt on Twitter at @KurtZindulka

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