Whitehall farce funnier than the show in question

Why should the comic be criticised for making good on his privileged upbringing?
  • @Simon_Kelner

I received an unprecedented response to my last column, about the furore over Channel 4's Big Fat Quiz of the Year.

As comedy is largely a matter of taste, it inspires many opinions, but the overwhelming sense I got from my respondents was that the affronted reaction to some off-colour jokes on a TV show broadcast after the watershed was disproportionate. The synopsis is this: Jack Whitehall and James Corden made some crude and, to my mind, unfunny, gags about such figures as The Queen, Usain Bolt and Susan Boyle, and the battalions of Middle England, aka the Daily Mail, went into apoplexia, demanding reparations and sanctions. It was a meteorite of a story that kept us amused while there was little else in the news. But an interesting side of modern Britain also revealed itself in the midst of the posturing and the confected outrage. It was reported that, not only was Jack Whitehall, inset, a young lout with no manners, but that he also came from a "privileged" background. He is the son of a well-connected theatre agent and a former actress who appeared in a number of television dramas. Young Master Whitehall's godfather is Nigel Havers. It's not exactly an impediment to a career in showbusiness, but neither is it like being born a Redgrave.

He was also educated privately and went to Marlborough College, whose most recent alumni include the Duchess of Cambridge. All this, we are led to believe, should make us hate him even more. Talented, good-looking, wealthy, popular – and the beneficiary of a bucket-full of demographic advantages. But how can we, in a country governed by an Etonian elite and where the highest levels of business and politics are rife with cronyism and quasi-Masonic back-scratching, take against a young man who has exploited his good luck in being dealt a winning hand?

Since when did a relatively privileged upbringing render talent less valid? And, in any case, many of our most venerable, best-loved comedic figures – John Cleese, Mel Smith, Jennifer Saunders for example (public school educated all) – have enjoyed similar environmental advantages to Whitehall. I can't remember their careers being blighted by public disapproval of their background. At every turn these days, we are encouraged to feel resentful and angry: about bankers, or MPs, or journalists, or the police, or indeed anyone in public life. Sometimes with very good cause. But we need to exercise a little discrimination.

There is no reason to begrudge Jack Whitehall his success because of his arguably gilded opportunity. He is very much the product of an age when everyone tries to be young, feel young or act young. As a result, young people have more power, more freedom and are less inhibited by a respect for tradition.

His comedy – and that of his peers – betrays this, and more. And that's why some people feel threatened by it.