BBC Radio 4 listeners have voiced their outrage after the station aired a debate on blackface in which Harry Enfield used the word “c**n”.
While speaking to Nick Robinson on the Today programme, Enfield said he wouldn’t perform in blackface now, adding, “But I don’t think I regret it.” The star of The Windsors also said his portrayal of Nelson Mandela in sketch show Harry & Paul was “so wrong that it was right”.
“I’ve done it, several times in the past, I’ve played Nelson Mandela in one thing for laughs,” he said.
“I thought, who is my hero? Nelson Mandela, who I had the pleasure of meeting once, and what’s the stereotype of black people? Well, at the time there was a lot of things in the papers about drugs, so I made him a drug dealer or a pedaller of alcopops for children and things like that, which I thought was so wrong that it was right.”
When questioned by Robinson whether he understood the historical dimensions of blackface, Enfield used the racial slur while defending his position.
“Let me tell you, Nick, obviously Al Johnson or GH Elliot, who played the Chocolate Coloured C**n in the 1930s – they perpetuated the myth of the happy negro who was just very happy to sing under the crack of the whip, the American whip or the British imperial bayonet and obviously that’s deeply offensive and always will be.”
It was at this point Robinson interjected, warning Enfield about his use of the word.
“Just to be clear, Harry, because there will be people offended by that term you just used,” he said. “You’re using it in inverted commas. Let’s not repeat it, but it’s a term that was used at the time.”
“Well that was his name on stage,” Enfield replied. “But I’ve played Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Tony Blair, David Cameron – four prime ministers. Say Rishi Sunak became Prime Minister, I would find it difficult that I would not be allowed to play him because of the colour of his skin.”
Enfield was allowed to speak for minutes during the debate, while black comedian Ava Vidal – who was arguing against the use of blackface in comedy – was told to keep her response “brief”. Robinson also mispronounced Vidal’s first name on several occasions during the segment, for which he apologised.
On Twitter, many listeners criticised Enfield’s remarks – but also Radio 4’s decision to allow him to defend his viewpoint.
Radio 4 getting Harry Enfield on Today to defend blackface in comedy is another horrid example of the media somehow thinking this is a 'debate' with 'two sides'. It isn't. Blackface is racist. We don't need a debate.
— James Temperton (@jtemperton) June 11, 2020
Vidal has since shared a number of tweets complaining about the segment, many of which saw listeners voice their support for her viewpoint.
She also told Metro.co.uk, “It proves how deeply ingrained these attitudes are that he could utter that word without so much as a by your leave. This is why Black and POC have to lead the conversation on racism because many White people don’t even notice it.”
Now I love the BBC but this bizarre "racism is a debate. We have to be impartial* & show that there are 2 sides. Let's have Harry Enfield on defending blackface" is just plain wrong. Racism is wrong! There aren't 2 sides to this!
*The badly handled Naga Munchetty incident
— ???? Confused Spoons ???? (@DrLizoSpoons) June 11, 2020
The debate was aired in the wake of the BBC’s decision to remove comedy Little Britain from on-demand service iPlayer.
That Harry Enfield was even asked on to ‘defend’ black face on BBC R4 at the same time the *same* BBC is removing shows that feature it shows something is broken imo.
— Mollie Goodfellow (@hansmollman) June 11, 2020
The broadcaster said: “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.”
RadioTimes.com has contacted Nick Robison, BBC Radio 4, Ava Vidal, and Harry Enfield for comment