More TV shows face removal from streaming services: could Only Fools and Horses be next?

Only Fools and Horses. Picture: IMDb/BBC

Only Fools and Horses. Picture: IMDb/BBC - Credit: IMDb/BBC

As Netflix axes Little Britain, The League of Gentlemen and The Mighty Boosh for blackface characters, could shows like Only Fools and Horses be in the firing line?

Dumbo, 1941. Picture: IMDb/Disney

Dumbo, 1941. Picture: IMDb/Disney - Credit: IMDb/Disney

In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, the call to fight systemic racism has reached the small screen as TV providers seeks to purge its service of ‘inappropriate’ shows.

David Walliams and Matt Lucas’ comedy hit Little Britain has been removed by the BBC, Netflix and BritBox while another of their series, Come Fly With Me, was removed by Netflix last week.

Both shows used ‘blackface’ to portray a range of characters.

A BBC spokesman said on the recent events: “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.”

Rising Damp. Picture: IMDb/ITV

Rising Damp. Picture: IMDb/ITV - Credit: IMDb/ITV

An iconic episode of Fawlty Towers has also been removed by the BBC streaming service UKTV - the ‘Don’t Mention the War’ episode was first broadcast in 1976 and shows John Cleese’s character appearing shocked when he is treated by a black doctor.

Leigh Francis has apologized for using blackface in his shows to portray a number of celebrities including Michael Jackson, Craig David and Trisha Goddard on Bo’ Selecta and Hollywood blockbuster Gone with the Wind has been taken off HBO Max due to the depiction of former slaves.

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Netflix has also removed four Chris Lilley comedies in Australia: Angry Boys, Summer Heights High, We Can Be Heroes, and Jonah From Tonga have been taken down.

The BBC holds a different view on some of the shows Netflix has removed: Summer Heights High, We Can Be Heroes, The League Of Gentlemen, and The Mighty Boosh remain available on iPlayer.

The Mighty Boosh. Picture: IMDb/BBC

The Mighty Boosh. Picture: IMDb/BBC - Credit: IMDb/BBC

With the nation and the world glued to the small screen and united over the sadness and anger following the death of George Floyd, there is a hope from many that there will be a lasting impact on society while others believe that a cultural shift is being turned into a cultural war.

As the conversation continues about how racism and racial identity shape every aspect of our world from the economy to culture, the spotlight is on every corner of society – including television.

So as shows and films are removed and reviewed, could the axe swing on more British comedies and well-known films? We look at a number of shows and films which may well come under scrutiny. What do you think? Should TV shows be removed or are they “a product of their time”?

Other famous TV shows and films that have been accused of racism

1) Only Fools and Horses: The classic comedy was first aired in 1981 and has already been censored by the BBC which, in 2010, edited out controversial lines. The Netflix version – at the time of writing - remained unedited. There were mentions of popping down “the P*ki shop” and in one scene Del Boy talks about selling watches, saying: “giving them away for ten pounds each, there you go. Fifteen quid to the black bloke, can’t say fairer than that.”

2) Dumbo: The 1941 film contains racist stereotypes of African Americans in the form of black crows that use jive-live speech patterns. The main bird is Jim Crow, a nod to the racist segregationist Jim Crow laws of the time. It is voiced by a white actor.

3) Lady and the Tramp: The Siamese Cat Song has been removed from the new live-action version of the film after calls that the original was racially offensive. Co-written and sung by Peggy Lee in a stereotypical “Asian” accent, when streamed on Disney+ the original has a written disclaimer in the description: “This program is presented as originally created. It may contain outdated cultural depictions.”

4) Rising Damp: Still available to watch via Prime and ITV Hub, there were jokes about Leonard Rossiter’s character having a black medical student as a tenant and his discomfort and knee-jerk reactions of Rigsby to Philip (Don Warrington). Creator Eric Chappell defended Rigsby by saying: “he wasn’t a racist or a bigot, but he was prejudiced and suspicious of strangers. But he accepted Philip and his only concern afterwards was that he didn’t get a leg over Miss Jones”.

5) Facejacker: Critics claim the prosthetics donned by Kayvan Novak can be racist (and the accents on the previous Fonejacker) but the creator of the show says: “From Fonejacker, multiculturalism has been a big part of my repertoire,” he says. “I’m the guy that can play all the different races and get away with it.”

6) The Two Ronnies: In 2018, a headteacher was forced to apologise after a “racist and sexist” Two Ronnies sketch was played to parents at a school information evening. The clip, called “The Sheikh in the Grocery Store” features a man asking for items from a shop and being mimicked when he mispronounces them.

7) Ruddy Hell: It’s Harry and Paul: Available on Prime, Harry Enfield used blackface in a sketch featuring Nelson Mandela being a drug dealer. In a Radio Four interview Enfield said: “At the time, there was a lot of things in the paper about drugs, so I made him a drug dealer, or a peddler of alcopops to children and things like that, which I thought was so wrong it was all right. I wouldn’t do it now, but I don’t think I regret it.”

8) Saturday Night Takeaway: Even national treasures Ant and Dec aren’t squeaky clean when it comes to racial stereotyping. In 2003, they wore blackface to pretend to be two bumbling Jamaican women who had won an opportunity to perform as extras on Emmerdale. In a statement, the pair said: “During past episodes of Saturday Night Takeaway we impersonated people of colour in the Undercover segment of the show. We realise that this was wrong and want to say that we are sincerely sorry to everyone that we offended,” they said. “We purposely stopped doing this several years ago and certainly would not make these sketches today.”

9) Fantasy Football: David Baddiel used blackface to play footballer Jason Lee, who had been the subject of racist abuse about his dreadlocks. Former Nottingham Forest star Lee described Baddiel’s depiction of him as: “a form of bullying”.

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