Italy to air pogoing Pope cartoon shelved by BBC

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The Independent Online

A cartoon sitcom set in the Vatican and featuring a manic Pope bouncing around on a pogo stick and a back-stabbing cardinal is to be broadcast in Italy after it was cancelled by the BBC.

A cartoon sitcom set in the Vatican and featuring a manic Pope bouncing around on a pogo stick and a back-stabbing cardinal is to be broadcast in Italy after it was cancelled by the BBC.

Popetown is a knockabout comedy that "looks at the daily nuisances that exist in any workplace", according to a BBC press release - the workplace being the Vatican. But after the show was publicised in November 2002, more than 6,000 British Catholics demanded it be scrapped.

Clifford Longley, a Catholic commentator, accused the BBC of trying to incite ill-feeling towards Britain's six million Catholics. He said: "If you insult the leadership of the Catholic Church like this, you insult all Catholics ... and you hold them up for public hatred, ridicule and contempt."

The BBC caved into the protests and pulled the show before it was screened, but was determined to recoup some of its multimillion-pound losses from shelving the show by marketing it around the world. Now an Italian satellite channel, CanalJimmy, is to give Italians, 90 per cent of whom are Catholic, the benefit of the 10-part series this spring.

CanalJimmy is unfazed by the fact that the object of Popetown's ridicule, the Vatican, is only a few miles from the station. Ironically, the decision to buy the series comes at a time when Italians are bemoaning the disappearance of homegrown satire. Silvio Berlusconi, the Prime Minister, who istouchyabout any treatment of himself in the media that is not downright hagiographical, has led to several Italian comics being banned. The most high-profile victim was Dario Fo, the author ofAccidental Death of an Anarchist and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1997.

Yet CanalJimmy has no qualms about Popetown, which it has re-titled Holy Smoke. "This is a very alternative sort of channel," said a spokeswoman. "In fact we hope there will be a bit of a controversy as it would bring us some attention."

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