Steve Coogan and his Baby Cow production company have been accused by anti-vivisectionists of being "irresponsible" in making a cartoon series which portrays laboratory animals as living in pampered conditions.
The series, I Am Not An Animal, is shortly to be screened on BBC 2, and shows the animals enjoying "a stylish waterside apartment, specially designed clothes, modern European cuisine and a cellar full of chianti" as they await their experiments.
Publicity material for the show said the animals' "cosseted existence in a vivisection unit is turned upside-down when they are liberated by animal rights activists".
The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) has written to Jane Root, the controller of BBC 2, to complain about the BBC's backing for the project. Wendy Higgins, the BUAV's campaigns director, called on Ms Root to drop the six-part series. She said: "Far from living a pampered lifestyle, the truth is that animals in laboratories can endure a catalogue of horrendous cruelty. If Baby Cow had produced a cartoon depicting other forms of deliberately inflicted suffering as benign or even enjoyable from the victim's viewpoint - child abuse, torture, racist exploitation, sexual harassment - I cannot imagine that BBC 2 would have considered it responsible to broadcast such a programme."
I Am Not An Animal has been written by Peter Baynham, who previously worked on I'm Alan Partridge and the spoof documentary series Brass Eye. Coogan provides the voices of some of the animals, including a horse "with literary pretensions". Baby Cow's website said that the animals are "fed upon a diet of olive focaccia, mushroom and gruyere risotto" and are "blissfully unaware of the world outside".
Having been released into the wild, the cartoon animals struggle to adapt. The BBC's publicity material asked: "Unable to find a decent restaurant in the wild ... can these poor, deluded freaks possibly survive?"
Ms Higgins said that she had not had a sense of humour failure. "I think it's thoroughly irresponsible of Baby Cow and BBC 2," she said. "It would have been quite feasible to do a cartoon that had something poignant to say about animal suffering."
The BBC describes I Am Not An Animal as "a darkly entertaining adult animation series".
Those who have seen the show regard it as a satirical look at vivisection and believe it will not cause offence.
Peter Baynham said last night: "I have always been against cruelty to animals and remain so. This is not what the series is all about."Reuse content