In which James Delingpole gets down with the kids, finds they’re sex-obsessed…

... and demands the return of Dad’s Army

26 July 2014

9:00 AM

26 July 2014

9:00 AM

If there’s one thing everyone knows about BBC comedy it’s that it’s going downhill. According to Danny Cohen, now Director of BBC Television, it’s too white and middle class; according to producer John ‘Blackadder’ Lloyd, it’s run by idiots like the bureaucrats in the BBC satire W1A who don’t understand what comedy is; according to the gag-inducingly PC Dara O’Briain, it’s too gag-inducingly PC (he means the quota system they’re trying to introduce whereby every comedy panel show must have a token female); according to John Cleese, it’s never been the same since John Cleese left; etc.

Probably they’re all right. I hardly ever watch comedy series any more because they’re invariably full of young people being free and having lots of messed-up fun while yet asking us to feel sorry for them. But this week, just to check what the kids are up to, I thought I’d have a look at Comedy Feeds — the BBC’s now-annual newbie talent contest for sitcoms and sketch shows.

Comedy Feeds In Deep 2
In Deep, BBC3

The BBC screened them all on Sunday night, none of them more than half an hour long, some much shorter. It was an opportunity to play comedy Caligula, deciding on the basis of a few brief scenes which bright young things have a future, and which really shouldn’t give up the day job.

There was one involving vibrators that started quite well: just a nice bit of visual comedy business in which one girl went to the communal TV remote to nick the batteries for her sex toy, only to discover to her disgust that they’d already been pinched for the same purpose by another female flatmate.

But then, unfortunately, it continued in that vein and I realised that smut was all it had to offer: endless filth by gobby girls banging on in different accents about vaginas. Presumably the writer thought she was being edgy or refreshingly frank or confrontational or daring, but actually it was just crass. This can be a problem, I think, with female comedy. When it’s not about neurotic self-hatred it’s about trying to outgross the boys with results that repel rather than amuse.

You might have levelled a similar charge at In Deep, written by Tom Joseph and Thomas Eccleshare, whose MacGuffin comprised a message concealed in a tampon in the intimate parts of a female corpse. What redeemed it, though, was its unpredictability and crazy energy as it told the story of two hopeless inner-city policemen — Ashley Walters and Adam Deacon — yearning for excitement in their routine lives and suddenly (à la The Wrong Mans) getting far, far too much of it. It ended on a cliffhanger with our two heroes bound in gaffer tape, about to be murdered by a crazed homosexual serial killer. That’s the way to do your showreels: leave commissioning editors gagging to know what happens next.

I’d say the other team to watch are the hugely engaging Tom Rosenthal and Naz Osmanoglu. Shame about the title — Flat TV — which would only work if people actually used the phrase ‘Flat TV’, rather than ‘Flat Screen TV’. But that quibble apart, this series has legs. The situation may be hackneyed — hopeless male flatmates yearning to get off with the much sassier girls in the flat next door — but it works because the chemistry is great, the lines are funny and the set-up quirkily digressive and post-modern.


The premise is that the boys inhabit a universe where their real lives collide with a TV fantasy world on their in-house channel Flat TV. So, when they’re trying to decide which note to pin on the girls’ door, their respective efforts are judged by an X-Factor-style panel (with Rosenthal doing a bravura Simon Cowell). It ended disastrously (in a good way) with the boys smashing to smithereens a live lobster in front of the deeply unimpressed girls (one of them an ardent vegetarian who can’t eat anything ‘with a face’), as part of a misguided attempt to demonstrate a theory one of them read on the internet that lobsters are immortal.

We’ll skip lightly past the one set in a KFC-style fast food outlet (no) and the one set over the course of a school parents’ evening (no no no) to the other possible contender, Otherworld. This is set on an Earth where a lovably evil alien like the one that bursts out of John Hurt’s chest in Alien introduces a series of comedy sketches: one involving a reluctant couple of pandas in a zoo who can’t get it together because the male is a Scottish drunk and the female has the hots for her keeper; another, a spoof trailer for a pastiche of Legally Blonde, where the deceptively dumb female who wants to go to Harvard Law School is played by a blow-up doll. God, they really are obsessed with sex, are they not, the kids of today? I blame Tinder. Bring back Dad’s Army.

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  • Liz

    “According to Danny Cohen, now Director of BBC Television, it’s too white and middle class; according to producer John ‘Blackadder’ Lloyd, it’s run by idiots like the bureaucrats in the BBC satire W1A who don’t understand what comedy is; according to the gag-inducingly PC Dara O’Briain, it’s too gag-inducingly PC (he means the quota system they’re trying to introduce whereby every comedy panel show must have a token female); according to John Cleese, it’s never been the same since John Cleese left; etc.”

    And according to any females – token or otherwise?

    • Picquet

      So who cares? I’ve yet to meet, hear or see a female with a sense of humour that doesn’t involve her vagina (since about 1990, I think. Before that they didn’t know the word.)

      • Liz

        Don’t talk nonsense.

        • Picquet

          Well, if I was being bad, I’d say that you were the exception proving the rule; that everything you say makes me laugh. But I won’t.
          Jo Brand, I think it was, who introduced the word “vagina” to female-oriented ‘comedy’ in a big way. Perhaps someone else, long-forgotten; but seriously, I don’t care. Unfortunately, they all still think it’s ‘edgy’ or something. *Shockingly funny*; yes, that’s it.

          That’s a white, middle-class, middle-aged viewpoint, by the way. We haven’t gone away, you know.

          • Liz

            There are loads of female comics who never or very rarely mention their vaginas. And plenty of male ones who literally can’t shut up about their penises and sex.

          • Picquet

            Whatever you say. I stopped listening to female ‘comics’ quite a while ago when it became clear that their intended audience didn’t include me. That also applied to a great number of men in the trade, too, but at least Rich Hall and Dylan Moran are still around. Mind you, the last-named is a bit of a vagina occasionally.

          • Damaris Tighe

            It’s nothing to do with male v female comics. It’s to do with British humour, which was once very sophisticated & understated, now competing to see who can reach the gutter first – if it hasn’t happened already.

  • Liz

    It’s a bit rich for a Spectator columnist to complain about smut when you look at its offerings over the last few months: stop picking on paedophiles, right wing women are better in bed, no left wing women are better in bed, Cameron only promotes women for men to look at. And then if you look below the line, you can be treated to all manner of filth about shutting women up by sticking your cock in their mouths.

    Do you really think you’re on the high comic ground?

    • The_greyhound

      If God hadn’t meant us to laugh at women, He wouldn’t have made them ridiculous.

      • Jackthesmilingblack

        Either women have no sense of humour, or are very skilled at suppressing it. Those totally impractical clothes, ridiculous shoes, accessories, jewellery, make up, expensive easy-rape underwear, ludicrous hair styles… And what about that cosmetic surgery? If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
        Punctuality issues, the assumption that they can supervise anything artisan on literally zero practical experience. Always leaving home and then remember something important was left behind. That complete lack of memory except when it comes you a man’s shortcomings. And the constant complaining…
        “This place is so backward you can’t even get a full range of lip gloss.”
        Face it, guys, it women weren’t sitting on a fortune you would’t give them the time of day. Now would you, be honest.
        Jack, Japan Alps

        • Yorkieeye

          Gosh, are you for real? Some woman must have really fucked you over!

  • Liz

    “My problem with female comics: the smut”

    So I watched the one written by the male comic. Where a dead woman landed face down, arse up, legs splayed on the bonnet of a car and remained there for a good ten minutes before one of the police men reached inside her dead vagina and retrieved a clue which lead him to hamming it up as a gay man.

    • The_greyhound

      The sheer lack of any discernible talent among the female “comics” is dispiriting too.

  • Dodgy Geezer

    Alas….. I gave up having a TV when the best the stand-up comics could offer was:

    ” That Maggie Thatcher – isn’t she a shit…?” (prolonged applause)

    • dado_trunking

      Absolutely concur. That’s not funny at all.

  • rtj1211

    The simplest conclusion to draw, Delingpole, is that you just getting old like the rest of us.

    Comedy is a generational thing. Young comedy targets the young, just as pop music targets the 12 – 35 age group in the main.

    What you’re saying is that comedy targeting the more mature mind isn’t getting made any more.

    • jboswell

      No. As someone in the target demographic, I can assure you it actually does suck. And targeting the young is part of the problem: the only thing comedy should target is the funny bone. [On a side note, you tellingly compared it to pop music targeting 12-35 year olds. Am I the only one who finds it rather pathetic that people in their mid thirties are listening to the same music as 12 year olds?]

  • timinsingapore

    BBC comedy seems to be in a pretty bad way. The belief persists that all you need to do is refer to intimate body parts and throw in a few farts and perhaps a vomit, and the result with be absolutely side-splitting. Thoroughly contemporary, edgy even. Jo Brand, Jennifer Saunders, they all believe it. Even Graham Norton needs to move on a bit. Some efforts are so lame that you wonder about the commissioning process.

  • Jacques Strap

    Why do we need dads army? We have mumsnet!