Sir Ludovic Kennedy, the former broadcaster, author and veteran campaigner for liberal causes, caused astonishment yesterday by saying there were too many black people appearing in television programmes.
Writing in The Oldie magazine, Sir Ludovic, 83, said there was "rather more than its fair share'' of black participation in television soaps, vox pops and advertising. He said political correctness had got "completely out of hand" and that the imbalance needed to be readjusted.
The comments shocked both broadcasters and broadcasting organisations. The BBC said it was "proud'' to be committed to diversity and fairness, while Channel 4 said the comments were "ludicrous.'' The Commission for Racial Equality said he had misunderstood the realities of multiracial Britain.
Sir Ludovic, who lives in Wiltshire, could not be contacted yesterday to clarify his comments, made in a review of The Fun Factory, A Life in the BBC, by Will Wyatt, the former managing director of BBC television.
He concluded his review writing: "I'd like to take issue with Will when he says it was his aim to bring more blacks to the screen, in which it seems he has more than succeeded. I am all in favour of black advancement, but there's now hardly a TV, pub, police station, soap, vox pop or ad without rather more than its fair share of black participation."
"The Statistical Office tells me the proportion of all ethnic groups (blacks, Indians, Pakistanis, Asians) to whites in this country is no more than 7.5 per cent. Political correctness has got completely out of hand and requires that the imbalance be readjusted.''
A spokeswoman for the BBC, which recently began a new black sitcom, The Crouches, said: "The BBC has a duty to serve all of its audiences and although ethnic minorities make up 9 per cent of the UK population (4.6 million people, according to the 2001 census), some of our programmes - EastEnders, Holby City and Casualty for example - do have more than this representation. But this is because these dramas are set in urban areas where people from ethnic minority backgrounds make up as much as 30 per cent of the population so it would seem unrealistic to the audiences watching these dramas without this variety of characters.''
Alan Yentob, the BBC's director of drama, entertainment and children's television, added: "I think Ludo is a great guy; but I don't agree with him on this at all. It's a very silly thing to say and - I don't want this to sound patronising at all - I think he needs to get out more.''
Channel 4 said: "We do not think these comments justify a response. They are clearly ludicrous.''
About 11 per cent of the channel's staff are from ethnic minorities, a figure it is anxious to increase. It requires commissioning editors to ensure about 10 per cent of all faces on screen are from ethnic minorities and a similar level is achieved in its workforce.