There is no such thing as a middle-class laugh

It’s a very dangerous path that the BBC Trust is going down


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.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: SEO Account Manager

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SEO Account Manager is requi...

SThree: Associate Recruitment Consultant - Global Leader - FTSE 250

£18000 - £23000 per annum + competitive: SThree: As an Associate Recruitment C...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Representative

£22000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family run school photogra...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - OTE £42,000

£28000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will be joining a leading s...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A church in South Carolina burns after a fire breaks out on June 30, 2015  

America knows who has been burning black churches, but it refuses to say

Robert Lee Mitchell III
England's Jodie Taylor, left, and Jill Scott celebrate Taylor's goal against Canada during the first half in a quarterfinal of the Women's World Cup  

Women's World Cup: We should be able to praise England's Lionesses without shaming the men's team

Charlie Webster
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map