Anyone who was listening to Radio 4’s Feedback on Sunday will have heard some listeners complaining about Jeremy Hardy Speaks To The Nation. One listener complained that the show was a “party political broadcast for the Labour Party”. Another listener bemoaned the fact that there aren’t any right-wing comedians on Radio 4. Right wing comedians? Really? Do I really want to hear right-wing comedy on Radio 4 or anywhere else? Needless to say, the complaints weren’t so much about the show rather than an apparent left-wing bias in the station’s comedy content.
Readers, I have read complaints like these before on Telegraph blogs and on The Freedom Association’s (TFA) website. The issue isn’t so much comedy itself, but with what the Right perceives to be the BBC’s “cultural bias” and, in the absence of any salient examples, they will often cite the employment of what it sees as “left-wing” comedians at the “licence payers expense”.
We have seen complaints such as these from the Right since the 1970s. The political fringe theatre companies that were funded by the Arts Council of Great Britain, for example, came under attack from Tories like Teddy Taylor, who singled out CAST for special treatment. CAST, it seems, upset him more than most. He said,
“It is an outrageous waste of money. I’d like all grants withdrawn from this theatre company and intend to make representations to the authorities”.
Taylor had an ally in fellow Tory, Norman Tebbit, who complained bitterly of left-wing radicals practising their subversive arts on the taxpayers’ farthing. Thanks to their efforts, the Thatcher government appointed William Rees-Mogg (father of Jacob) as Chairman of the Arts Council in 1983. Under his command, funding was withdrawn from CAST and many other left-wing theatre companies. Consequently, the majority of fringe theatre companies were forced to either fold or change. Ever resourceful, CAST revived the variety form first on their New Variety circuit and then a couple of years later at the Hackney Empire. But funding cuts to local government and the abolition of the Greater London Council would continue to threaten CAST’s and the Hackney Empire’s existence until the mid-1990s.
So what is right-wing comedy? If you have a knowledge of right-wing political ideologies, then you will more or less understand the themes and the butts of its humour. In the 1970s, we had Granada Television’s The Comedians. Jim Davidson, unless I am very much mistaken, is a right-wing comedian and a supporter of the Conservative Party. Davidson used to work for the BBC fronting such programmes as Big Break and The Generation Game. To the best of my knowledge, he has never graced the Radio 4 studios. Just as well, really.
Commissioning editor, Caroline Raphael defended Jeremy Hardy and reminded the complainants that satire can only work if it attacks those in power. This is axiomatic of political satire, but in the mind of the Right such self-evidence is met with derision. Why would anyone want to challenge the powerful? Aren’t they superior because of their social position and circumstances of birth? Although, they may not speak these words aloud, the underlying social Darwinian sentiment is there.
If left-wing comedy (well, political satire) attacks those in power, then right-wing comedy attacks those without power. It regards ethnic minorities, women, gays, lesbians, trans people, the homeless, the working class, drug addicts and others as objects of ridicule. It does not speak to power because it is power. In the master-slave relationship, it is the master. It presents life as a series of banal and insulting representations. It denies history because it seeks to create mythologies in its place. It is a sad day, indeed, when comedians like Jimmy Carr are described as “left-wing” by right-wing commentators.
The truth of the matter is that there are right-wing comedians, but their politics may not be evident in their comedy. Those who sit on the political Right are more likely to come across as ‘apolitical’ and play for the troops in the Falklands or Afghanistan. Judge them not by their words, but by their actions.
One of the complainants opined that “the BBC is a non-political organisation and yet it is paying for broadcasting what appeared to be a party political broadcast for the Communist Party”. First of all, the BBC is not a “non-political organisation” and this is evident in it news coverage, which displays a right-wing bias. Secondly, those who complain that Hardy’s show was a “political broadcast for the Communist Party” ignore two things: 1) the Communist Party does not and has never made political broadcasts for the BBC and 2) Hardy is not a member of the Communist Party. But then, this is how the Right regards anything that doesn’t conform to their views. Even the Labour Party is “Communist” in their eyes.
But if right-wing comedy is like anything else that they’ve produced (think of nationalist poetry), then it’s bound to be pretty poor. I think it was Hemingway, who when asked if he preferred right-wing poetry to left-wing poetry, replied by saying right-wing poetry was “boring”. Right-wing comedy is bound to be, not only boring, but abusive as well.