I will at the outset declare an interest. I am middle class. I am therefore, I guess, one of those enjoying the BBC’s comedy at the moment. For the BBC Trust, the corporation’s governing body, has declared, in what I find a particularly puzzling criticism, that too much of the corporation’s comedy is middle class. The Trust says in a report that audiences complained that BBC1 lacks quality family sitcoms in the tradition of Only Fools and Horses or Fawlty Towers, and, apart from Mrs Brown’s Boys, could feel “middle-class in focus and target audience”, with Miranda (below) cited as an example.
Despite dabbling in the arts for a number of years, I have to confess I have no clear idea what middle-class art is, be it comedy, drama or anything else. I feel that we should bring back and amend the classic “class” sketch with John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett:
“I am upper class. I enjoy art-house humour on BBC4.”
“I am middle class. I chuckle at Miranda.”
“I grab a beer and watch Mrs Brown’s Boys.”
Is that patronising enough for the BBC Trust? For patronising is certainly what it is being. Do not all classes enjoy good comedy? And is good comedy not classless? If only the Trust would define middle-class comedy. It says it wants sitcoms in the tradition of Fawlty Towers, but surely a comedy about a middle-class hotel owner interacting with his middle-class guests and supremely middle-class wife, is middle-class comedy.
So, I’m puzzled. Miranda is most certainly about middle-class people, but I’d say that it is poking affectionate fun at that middle-class way of life. Does that make it a middle-class comedy or an anti-middle class comedy?
It’s a very dangerous path that the BBC Trust is going down here. It will hide behind the argument that it is only reflecting audience concerns, but the phraseology it uses in its report is distinctively its own. If it is to start categorising comedy by class, what will be next? Drama? Is Call the Midwife a middle-class drama and EastEnders a working-class drama? What the Trust woefully fails to recognise is that art – and comedy is most certainly an art form – is classless. Good art makes us see the world and ourselves more clearly, often through humour. And the responses it causes in us are universal. Miranda’s various faux pas and anxieties transcend class. So, of course, did Del Boy’s wheeler-dealing. I’m now wondering, having digested the BBC Trust’s rules on comedy, whether I, as a north London, middle-class viewer, was in my rights to laugh at this south London wide boy.
The BBC Trust has proved itself a glib commentator on comedy. There is, thank goodness, no such thing as a middle-class laugh.
Here's how to attract a younger audience
A reader, Nigel Powlson, has come up with a fine idea, in response to my continued pleas for cheaper tickets, as a prime way to entice new and younger audiences. He thinks that the Arts Council should fund an Under-25s card offering tickets for £5. The card could be used throughout the country. Like all good ideas, a nationally funded Under-25s Card seems so obvious that one wonders why on earth it hasn’t already happened. Clearly, the economics of running venues would demand that the card could only be used on certain nights (I have always advocated Mondays for cheap tickets for young audiences), but even that would be a great improvement on the present situation, and an initiative that would see the Arts Council genuinely helping new audiences to enjoy the arts.
Why aren't the Proms shown live?
Back on the subject of the BBC, it is great to see a new season of the Proms bringing a host of delights. Many are, of course, being shown on TV, yet of the 28 being broadcast, only five are live. All of the others are recordings of Proms from nights earlier in the season. I wonder why. The BBC wouldn’t rule out broadcasting live performances from Glastonbury in this way. Live music, be it pop or classical, has a tension, electricity and unpredictability that a recorded concert doesn’t quite match. It’s odd that more Proms aren’t shown live. Perhaps someone on the BBC Trust has decreed that they are too middle-class.