Is Striking an Act of Self-Harm for the RMT?

Millions of Londoner commuters face a difficult commute into work today and over the next two months if a series of planned RMT strikes that started today goes ahead.

This strike has seemingly come out of nowhere and is based on tube train drivers being unhappy with changes to their night time roster. They’re being asked to work 4 night shifts a year. 4? Yes just 4 in 52 weeks and for that they complain their work-life balance is so disrupted they have decided the best course of action as London seeks to get back on it’s feet is too call a strike on Black Friday, 26th November 2021.

It’s smacks of extreme selfishness and self-harm. Not only are they putting London’s retails sector at risk on such an important, high profile retail day and month ahead in the run up to Christmas, they also damage Transport for London (TfL) and ultimately will put their drivers and other staff’s job security at risk. Furthermore, they are taking such damaging action at a time when TFL are seeking an extra £1.2 billion to make up for an enormous financial shortfall that threatens their ability to run a full service. Why on earth would the RMT therefore consider it a good idea to create a further revenue hit by striking today and over the coming months?

RMT’s specific concerns are about drivers and support staff delivering a night time service. This service was introduced to help the night time economy and service users, women in particular, enjoy week-end nights out and have a tube service to get them home safely. By withdrawing their labour and service they make it far more difficult for women to get home safely, conveniently and relatively cheaply. Don’t RMT care about women? As it is entirely in their gift to run the night service it would seem the answer is no they do not.

Finally, examining TfL’s finances – it’s understandable they’ve taken a huge hit by following the Government request to discourage tube travel and working from home, but twice they’ve asked for billions of extra funds, received it and now they want a further lump sum. When will this end? Let’s not forget no one else runs London transport. TfL have a monopoly on running the London underground and bus services in the capital. They have no competition, therefore it’s for them to make this work cost effectively and profitably. They have failed to do so for so many reasons.

Ahead of the ULEZ scheme the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan decided to pay car owners £2,000 to but cars not meeting the emissions standard he set. This has cost £61m. Why do that? Knowing their finances were so dire why did the Mayor offer to purchase these cars? If people wanted to avoid the £12.50 a day ULEZ charge they just needed to sell their cars in whatever manner they chose. It wasn’t for City Hall to buy their cars and create a further dent in their finances.

Prior to that the Mayor introduced free travel for under 16’s. That blew another enormous hole in TfL finances. I’m sorry but a lot of this financial mess is on the Mayor and TfL.

TfL management have questions to answer too. Disputes have been a perennial problem for them for decades. If they have introduced recent changes to contracts and night time services resulting in today’s strike, why didn’t they introduce them last year when the service was actively encouraging commuters not to travel on public transport? They missed a once in a lifetime, golden opportunity to reform management-worker relations forever, but instead, took their eye of the ball. The unions wouldn’t have been able to threaten strike action for people were barely using the trains and buses.

Perhaps TfL should have pushed for legislation to ban strikes on the London Underground. Is it time that was put back on the agenda and the Government introduced no strike legislation on the basis that London Underground and bus services are essential to life and work in the capital? Rail unions should no longer be holding London and the wider economy to ransom whenever they feel like it, especially for relatively unsubstantial matters that have led to this strike. What do you think?

Link

How Tfl Got Into This Mess and How They Can Get Out of It? – John Ellidge, London Evening Standard, 18 November 2021

Photo and Article © Tiemo Talk of the Town

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Slim: King of London Palladium

Slim: King of London Palladium

Rating: ****

Show: Slim King

Venue: London Palladium

Date: 14th November 2021

The man or woman who wears the crown calls the shots. If you’re going to call your tour ‘King’, then failure to deliver a great show is not an option. It’s not a guarantee either. Slim had a lot to live up to.

Not just because of the title, but because he’s been performing for 28 years and his fans are very familiar with him and his style, which created an additional pressure to serve up new material that could still create huge waves of laughter. Could Slim deliver on arguably on one of the biggest and most prestigious stages of his life, the world famous London Palladium? This is a venue where comedian Rob Brydon followed his footsteps a few days later, Wednesday night (17 November 2021) and prior to that the world’s biggest selling female solo singer Adele, the star of ITV’s ‘An Audience with Adele’ (21/11/2021) – was there just a week earlier, 6 November 2021.

Slim  took fans on a journey through his long career – including his pre-comedy days and life in general.  It was a chance to reminisce and laugh at old favourites such as the bus driver yarns – dealing with rambunctious school children, extremely rude passengers and his personal favourites, those running for and missing out on catching a bus and worse still (or funnier still) falling flat on their faces!

Slim

What was so good about this aspect of the show and he devoted 20 minutes to it, was that it sounded as fresh and as funny as when heard for the first time. He doesn’t often relive those memories in his live shows, but I can imagine these will be aired a lot more frequently in 2022 and beyond as he seeks to break into more mainstream areas – be that TV, radio or live stand up shows – specifically aimed at those new to his comedy.

Other old favourites included his daughter’s 16th birthday party requests for smoke fog machines. These went down a storm.

Bringing fresh and topical new material or unusual takes on a story has always been a big part of Slim’s appeal that sets him apart from others. The audience heard his views on the post penalty shoot out racism row following the Euro 2020 final between England and Italy. You may recall this came shortly after 3 penalties were missed by the Black England players Bukayo Sako, Jordan Sancho and Marcus Rashford MBE. Slim didn’t merely go down an obvious route but strayed left field with an interesting observation of his own which resulted in him being a little less sympathetic to one player’s plight in particular. A woman in the audience was surprised to the extent that she shouted out, “You didn’t just say that Slim?” He replied, “Oh yes I did” and  proceeded to expand upon and defend his joke. I won’t elaborate here, for out of context his comment could sound controversial. It was slightly risque but I  don’t think he was trying to be controversial. He was merely doing his job and finding the funny in a bad situation. The audience lapped it up.

Slim

Another example of what some may see as taboo breaking, was saying what few parents would admit; namely disclosing that he had a favourite child. His reasoning made sense so fair enough. That’s his truth.

There were plenty of other stories regarding the raising of his 6 children and the differences he’d observed over the years between raising boys and girls. There was a degree of melancholy and humour as he moved from one end of the life spectrum to the other as the show drew to a close with slim talking about caring for his elderly father during his twilight years.

With these vignettes of life in the house of Slim you get the very essence of the man and what the best Comedians do. He shared some of the most personal details of his life, highlighting his truth in a frank, funny and honest way, regardless of whether it made him or others look bad or not.

The jokes and laughs flowed freely throughout the show. At 1 hour 20 minutes without a break, one criticism was that it was a bit too long.

The other concern was the high volume of swearing in it. Whilst it was arguably in keeping with his very personable onstage persona, it did jar a little. I mention this as for the most part  the material was pretty family friendly and so if the goal is to break into the mainstream, through doing more high profile TV and radio work, then I presume the swearing is going to have to go or that breakthrough won’t materialise.

There has to be a funny way of expressing anger or shock without swearing. The theatre goers aren’t swearing when chatting amongst themselves during the evening. Reviewers don’t include swearing in their reviews, so I think a way needs to be found to address this without losing your edge. This was the London Palladium after all, home of the Royal Variety Show performed in front of the Queen, princes and princesses – an audience in front of whom you’d certainly be minding your language. 

Lastly, whilst the attendance on the night was far from slim – it was enormous in fact – the fans have a part to play if they want to see Slim go on to the next level. Slim kicked off the show by calling it out right away. He got the turn out his 28 years experience, talent and popularity merited. Suffice to say if fans bought their tickets far, far earlier, Slim might well have been adding extra dates at the London Palladium and UK wide venues as opposed to this one night special.

Slim is widely regarded as the People’s champion which explains why he’s won Best Black Comedian 5 times at various Black Comedy Awards shows over the years including twice at the Tiemo Entertainments awards! Slim was excellent. He was extremely amusing, brutally honest and broad in his subject matter, mixing old favourites with plenty of brand new jokes. King or not, Slim doesn’t need a title or crown to justify who he is or his standing in the comedy world, but if he did have one, on this superb performance he would wear the crown well.

Photograph’s & Review © Tiemo Talk of the Town

Slim (red jacket) mobbed by fans after the show

Links:

  1. Sorry I Didn’t Know – Series 2 – Tiemo review – 22nd November 2021
  2. O-SKA Winning Performance from Stephen K Amos – Tiemo review – 6th November 2021
  3. Mo Gilligan: Black, British & Funny – (featuring Slim) Tiemo review – 29th November 2020
Posted in Comedy Reviews 2021 | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Sorry I Didn’t Know What I Was Doing

Rating: *

Programme: Sorry I Didn’t Know Series 2 Episode 1

Broadcast Date: 3rd October 2021

TV Channel: ITV1

Series 2 of ‘Sorry I Didn’t Know’ (SIDK) arrived in October 2021. The first series was incredibly disappointing and I watched the opening episode of series two keen to see an improvement. The line up of guests was impressive – Dane Baptiste, Fatiha El-Ghorri, Reginald D Hunter and Russell Kane, which augured well. They provided ad hoc jokes and humour where they could. Unfortunately that got lost in the mist and fog of all the elements that made the first series so awful. The same stilted, clunky format and nonsensical, random scoring methodology used by host Jimmy Akingbola were still present. The team leaders – Chizzy Akudolu and Judi Love’s – knowledge of Black history didn’t appear to have increased at all. A more accurate title for the programme would have been ‘ Sorry I Didn’t Know What I Was Doing.’ Second series vehicles tend to be an improvement on the first series after refinements and lessons learned are applied. That hasn’t happened with this series II.

The photo round is impossibly difficult. Panelists are shown incredibly old black & white photographs – seemingly of historical importance and they are expected to guess or somehow know what they represent. If they were famous photos that would be fair enough, but these aren’t, so the panelists can hardly be at fault for not knowing or even being able to hazard a good guess about these photos. That is the fault of the programme makers. To make matters worse, on what is meant to be a light entertainment quiz show, the photos don’t even lend themselves to funny jokes.

Jimmy Akingbola, an actor, is way out of his depth as host – think Alan Carr being asked to sing an Adele song live at The London Palladium and you get the picture! Hosting quiz’s, if this show revealed anything at all, is an art form and this simply isn’t Jimmy’s forte. As far as I know he has no experience of hosting a quiz show so it’s a mystery why he is hosting this show? The host is meant to be the king master, the glue that holds a programme together. He doesn’t bring humour or knowledge to the role. When the host is the wrong fit the whole edifice collapses and that’s exactly what’s happened with this programme.

Jimmy’s scoring is frankly baffling, far too arbitrary and delivered without humour, wit or explanation. He’ll give points for wrong answers and then give nil points when an answer is virtually correct. For instance a question was asked re how many England caps Marcus Rashford MBE has earned. Chizzy Akudolu answered 257. Dane answered 110. He was given no points yet the correct answer was 107 so he wasn’t very far out at all and that would have been worth at least half a point by the usual randomness of his scoring process (if there is one). It made no sense at all. Russell Kane’s eye roll expression said it all when he heard Chizzy’s answer of 257. It was a clueless answer that gave the impression she knows nothing about football. A national team would typically play a maximum of 10 matches a season so it was impossible for 24 year old Rashford to have played anything close to 257 matches for England in just a few years!

The team leaders are just as critical as the host for they make up the triumvirate of regulars that contribute to the creation and longevity of a successful quiz show. If they get the talent and chemistry right the show becomes watchable regardless of who the guest panelists are. Sadly, as fine an actress as Chizzy is and comedienne Judi Love is, quiz show team leaders they are not. Firstly, they aren’t terribly knowledgeable about black history and worse, they give the distinct impression that it’s of no interest to them either. Chizzy admitted as much herself at one point stating’ “Yeah but I don’t really care about the other people that came before me.” How on earth can you say that when the whole point of a black history quiz show is the people who came before her!!! For that comment alone questions should be asked of her role in this show. Additionally, neither are really that funny on the show and as I said before there’s two things you have to bring to the table on these shows – knowledge and humour. If you bring neither you have a diabolically awful quiz such as Sorry I Didn’t Know.

Fatiha El-Ghorri

ITV know how to make brilliant, entertaining, quiz shows so how on earth is this appearing on their channel? The comedic talent on the show is first class, sadly SIDK just isn’t worthy of them. ITV would have been better of using the 30 minutes as a straightforward stand up comedy show, which would have been a fine vehicle for showcasing their talents in a far better light. There is good potential in the idea behind this show, but this format, trundling along like a really old banger, rather than a shiny new series II, is an embarrassment, doesn’t work at all and needs to be toed to the nearest scrap heap.

© Tiemo Talk of the Town

Links:

  1. Sorry I Didn’t Know – Series 2 – ITV-player
  2. What a Sorry Mess: Sorry I Didn’t Know – Series 1 – Tiemo review – 9th November 2020
  3. Slim: King of London Palladium – Tiemo review – 23rd November 2021
Posted in Comedy Reviews 2021, TV | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

O-SKA Winning Performance from Stephen K Amos

Before & Laughter

Star Rating: ****

Harrow Arts Centre

Pinner

Harrow HA4

Review: 30th October 2021

Stephen K Amos (SKA) was on superb form in his return to Harrow Arts Centre. In a show of two halves, the first section was largely audience work and general knock about banter and jokes. Early on SKA found his “side kick” for the night in the form of 22 year old Oliver, who identified himself as the youngest person in the audience. He was simply enjoying a quiet Saturday night out with his mum and dad. Until SKA found him!

Oliver and his parents were great sports as they allowed, or more precisely, had little choice in “allowing” SKA to tease them and generally incorporate the family into his show! Oliver’s youth compared to an audience largely comprising, in my estimation, 40-50 something’s, created a focal point for SKA to look back and compare how life is so different for young people today versus 30 odd years ago. For instance, when it came to music and home/mobile entertainment, Spotify and You Tube weren’t around then; DJ’ing comprised lugging around a record player and sound system and playing vinyl records and back in the 1970’s and early 1980’s people made more homemade clothes using sewing machines, often using a certain well known brand.

This was apt in a show entitled ‘Before and Laughter’ which ostensibly set out to look at the world pre and post Covid-19. Well as those examples highlighted, SKA went back way before Covid-10 and we are certainly not living in a post-Covid world, but without doubt a world with a lot more freedom than we had when lockdown was in full force.

The second half opened amusingly with SKA noticing Oliver’s mother was no longer in attendance. Oliver informed the audience that she had a party to go to. The audience erupted with laughter. Earlier SKA had referenced a Nigerian wedding reception also taking place at HAC. As this wasn’t a Nigerian family, more likely a White English family, I somehow don’t think she’d gone  there. It was quite amusing too that she’d left mid-show without her husband and son and it tickled SKA that she couldn’t even wait till the show had finished before leaving!

The final set was a more reflective one with SKA focusing on the meaning of life in the context of change in both his home and professional life imposed upon him with the lockdown. It was far deeper and more experimental, with him using it to road test new material. Themes of living your best life and whether it’s better to live life fast and die young versus playing the longer game were explored.

I’ll not say too much here as a good deal of it was experimental, suffice to say that worthy and serious as the subject matter was, it proved to be fascinatingly introspective and enjoyable, yet at the same time the audience were never too far away from the next laugh or flights of fancy as SKA went off on a tangent based on a heckle or unexpected audience response.

I actually found the show quite refreshing and more in keeping with SKA’s age and years in the business. The opportunity to get an audience to think a little, whilst still throwing in the jokes was taken with aplomb. The importance of family and friendship shone through, with his family coming in for a fair bit of stick. I loved the joke about having a certificate to prove his idiocy!

The only slight downside was the frequent f-bombs being dropped. Maybe he always has done, but I don’t recall SKA previously being a sweary comedian and I don’t think it improves or helps his comedy in any way, shape or form as I imagine many would consider swearing to be superfluous to a man with his talent, vocabulary and improvisational skills.

One highlight was the imagined father:Oliver conversation that might have occurred in the Oliver household prior to leaving for the show. It brilliantly and hilariously knitted together all the elements of the Oliver-parental-older sister family dynamics that the audience heard about on the night.

Oliver and SKA combined to produce an O-SKA winning performance. Before and Laughter is a terrific, feel good show with an abiding theme of the benefits of communal laughter. Yes we can all sit at home and watch comedy on TV, but SKA’s message was that you can’t beat being in a theatre, any space in fact, where a group of people , be that a group of strangers at a gig, are sharing a live experience, of laughing together at jokes they all get. That matters as much for audiences as it does for comedian’s.

© Tiemo Talk of The Town

Stephen K Amos is featured in a discussion with Gina Yashere, Sir Lenny Henry and Daliso Chapondo in The Guardian Black British Culture Matters Special edition supplement in The Guardian, 06/11/2021

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | 1 Comment

Did Prince Philip Die as a Result of Taking the Covid-19 Vaccination?

The cause of death of the late Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, is shrouded in mystery with Buckingham Palace declining to provide a reason.

Looking back on recent events leads to his Covid-19 vaccination as a potent contributory factor. On 9th January 2021 he and the Queen had their first dose of the vaccination – which brand hasn’t been disclosed, but considering only the Astra-Zeneca and Pfizer vaccines were on offer in the UK on that date, one has to conclude it was more than likely one of those.

Just 5 short weeks later, on 16th February 2021, Prince Philip find himself hospitalised at King Edward VII hospital. Presumably therefore he will have been ill a little while before then, in the absence of any clarification, pointing to a potential negative side effect of his vaccination. He didn’t live long enough to take the second dose of the vaccine.

The Prince remained in hospital for a total of 4 week, including a stay at St Bart’s hospital before being discharged on 16th March 2021 sadly looking as if the grim reaper had paid him an early visit. It was reported he’d had heart surgery for a pre-existing heart condition. He clearly wasn’t a well man.

PrincePhilip

Notwithstanding the fact he was of course a very old man and he could have simply died of old age and his pre-existing heart condition, he seemed to be doing OK health wise up until January. He hadn’t been in hospital for some years and had been self-isolating for the best part of a year at Windsor Castle so there’s no particular reason why he should have deteriorated so rapidly at that specific time.

Of course people do die aged 99 all the time and miss out on reaching the 100 milestone, but it does strike me as highly unusual for someone to die aged 99 years and 10 months. There may of course be other un-reported factors, but the only significant known one is that of him having taken the Covid-19 vaccination.

The public is usually given a cause of death for royalty and prominent public figures. There is a secrecy around which vaccine he took, what he was in hospital for and what he actually died of. Considering the negative impact it would have on the vaccine roll out programme, if it was the vaccine, you can’t discount that. The mass media , government and the royal family are as one, as if deliberately presenting a united front, in promoting the vaccine as the way out of lockdown and defeating Covid-19,  so you have to take a step back to consider whether they would have put this into the public domain if they knew the vaccine triggered the Duke’s demise.

Funeral at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle

It’ was very sad that the funeral was in front of only 30 guests. That’s ludicrous and highlights the inconsistency of the government’s lockdown policy and associated restrictions on its citizen’s civil liberties.

Since around February 2021 churches have been permitted to open for worship with the only restrictions on numbers who can attend determined by individual churches own assessment of risk. On that basis if worshipers can worship in their 100’s safely where is the logic or scientific basis for capping funerals at 30 and weddings at 15? There isn’t any as far as I can discern.

It’s seems even more illogical when you consider that people have always been able to shop in supermarkets – citadels of consumerism amongst mass numbers (no pun intended) of strangers, yet a couple can’t marry in front of more than 15 wedding guests or attend a funeral with more than 30 family members and close friends.

St George’s Chapel has a capacity of 800 and is of  very impressive height, so being inside there could be deemed akin to being outdoors, which as we know from the science is where people are meant to safest from the virus. Therefore allowing for social distancing you could surely quite easily and safely have held at least 300+ in the Chapel in a socially distanced manner in line with church regulations set out in those very same government guidelines.

FA Cup Semi-Final ‘Test Events’

The same applies to football matches. I imagine the late Duke of Edinburgh, former President of the Football Association between 1955-1957, would be spinning in his grave with the current goings on.

There were two prestigious FA Cup semi-final’s this week-end at the 90,000 capacity Wembley stadium. The Chelsea v Manchester City match on the same day as the funeral had less  fans than guests at the funeral i.e. nil (the same number as goals Manchester City scored). The Southampton v Leicester City match on 18th April 2021 had 4,000 Brent residents in attendance, at what they are deeming a test event. It’s bemusing that the same venue permits 4,000 on one day, but zero, the day before. Why the difference between the two events?

Again 4,000 in a 90,000 outdoor stadium is un-necessarily restrictive. As far as I am aware there is no logical or scientifically valid explanation that can justify this. I feel that fans and football clubs should now respond to this with the same antipathy and anger many have shown towards the proposed European Super League announced on 18th April 2021 and stop tolerating this any longer. Fans should be allowed to fill Wembley Stadium for this Sunday’s Carabao Cup Final, next month’s FA Cup Final plus all manner of league matches and play off finals in May 2021.

The Funeral

The build up, the pre-service outdoor pomp and ceremony was actually absolutely spectacular. It was just a shame the actual service was a real let down that didn’t match the outdoor spectacle. It lacked passion, warmth, emotion and any semblance of the personal. There were few references to the Duke, no eulogies and incredibly bland. dire sounding hymns. It was just very flat and un-befitting of the occasion and august surroundings

Record Breaking Number of BBC Complaints

The BBC received 100,000 complaints about its coverage on the day of Prince Philip’s death – 9th April 2021. It cleared its BBC1 & BBC2 schedules for the day. Did they learn and take heed? No. The BBC1 schedule on the day of the funeral, 17th April 2021, was effectively taken over by the funeral build up, ceremony and post-ceremony analysis from 6am – 16:20pm. That’s a monumental 10 hours 20 minutes of rolling royal coverage!!!

Even allowing for the fact BBC Breakfast News was already scheduled from 6-10am everything else (and I’m sure much of Breakfast News was devoted to the funeral) was specifically funereal related. The BBC could have directed viewers to its BBC News Channel (as obviously there CAN NOT be any other news in the world on such a day),  or other channels for instance. I accept that it’s a big deal and merited major prominence. I think more of a balance needed to be struck in this day and age, recognising that there are numerous digital TV channels, where if people want 24/7 news they have it via BBC news channels and various other channels. The BBC didn’t have to give over so much time to this to the detriment of non-funeral programming that was scheduled.

Prince Philip lived a tremendous life and left behind a great legacy with the Duke of Edinburgh award, bringing the royal family into the 21st century, putting conservation and environmental issues on the map and through the positive impact he’s had on so many people judging by the numerous anecdotes broadcast and published since his passing.

© Tiemo Talk of the Town

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Valentine’s Comedy Fundraiser

Rating: **
Date: 13th February 2021
Venue: Zoom
Host: Darran Griffiths
Comedians: Shawn King, Mo ‘Real, Kazeem Jamal, Michael Akadiri, Dana Alexander and Athena Kugblenu.

We’ll bring the comedy, you bring the food and drinks. Sounds like a good lock down recipe for a Valentine’s Saturday night in.

In what was a first for the 100 Black Men of London (100BMOL), the charity organised and hosted a 100 Comedy Fundraiser via Zoom on Valentine’s week-end.

Host Darran Griffiths

A good on-line turnout was kept amused and entertained by host comedian and 100BMOL Member Darran Griffiths, who kept proceedings flowing nicely with his jokes and audience banter. One of the highlights occurred when he went around the “virtual room” seeing who’s in the house and engaged with, literally, one couple who looked so cosy and loved up. Whilst the smiling lady seemed enamoured by the idea of spontaneously getting engaged on-line at the behest of Darran, the giveaway constant shaking of her beau’s right leg seemed to tell another story! Anyway, we wish them well and I’m sure if they want to do that  in real life, they’ll do so in their own sweet time. I suspect Darran was just trying to give love a little helping hand and do the “Wright thing” by throwing out his Cupid arrows.

Shawn King was very well received due to his unique Irish-Nigerian accent and Irish tales. The jokes about whether sending gay men to prison was the best punishment for their crimes went down a storm. I  enjoyed his material, but thought his delivery could have been improved.

That was the case for a few of the acts and I appreciate for many it was their first or second ever Zoom gig so it’s not difficult to see problems with making a virtual audience laugh, especially if you can’t see them and/or hear their reaction to your jokes. On-line LOL’s doesn’t quite cut it for comedians! Muted applause is no applause. They need to hear the laughter coming at them loud and clear.

Mo ‘Real also struggled with the zoom format. That said, it wasn’t just that, as it was clear on this occasion her material would have benefited from further work to evoke laughter. The rapid fire delivery method can be effective, but this time sadly failed to hit home for many in the audience . Maybe a slower delivery style with greater focus on the set up and punchlines would have been in order.

The background for many acts was less than ideal. Mo ‘Real in particular had a music video playing in the background and a glass of wine on the table beside her. I would have thought that more could have been done to portray a theatrical background that could have enhanced the overall ambience. It might have been a good idea for all Comedians to have been given the same background (e.g. 100BMOL logo) to use when “on stage” or at least create a theatrical looking stage set up that they all could have shared.

Kazeem Jamal was funny with a confident, up tempo demeanour and delivery style. The only distraction with him as well as Canadian Comedian Dana Alexander was the frequent use of the f and c word in their set.

Both are very funny but considering this was billed as a show for “loved ones, family, friends and the community” as well as this show being one for a charity focused on uplifting the Black community, especially it’s youths, the message this sent was completely inconsistent with the 100BMOL ethos. As a former Member, I know the 100BMOL does not teach it’s young Diamonds (mentees), aged 10-17, to swear so it seemed somewhat incongruous to say the least that they permitted the comedians to freely do so on a show, which their Diamonds could have been watching. Despite the promotional advert stating it was a 16+ show that later age range encompasses the 100BMOL Diamonds.

The aim of the show was fundraising to help the charity purchase its own building for the furtherance of its goals. I wish it all the very best in this endeavour in this milestone year, its 20th year of existence. This is an incredibly long-time for an entirely self-financed charity. Its work in mentoring, Education, Economic Empowerment and Health & Wellness for young people are so badly needed, more than ever in these pandemic times.

The organisation has lasted two decades, as it was, like any building that has stayed up for decades, built on strong, unshakable foundations; with strong, non-negotiable principles and values underpinning it that keep its core structure safe and sound for all who use it. The organisation obviously meant well by this fundraising show. They let themselves down by the standard of language they permitted on their virtual Zoom stage for their Valentine’s show. Love is sweet nothings whispered into a lovers ears, not swearing down a microphone.

© Tiemo Talk of the Town

To support the building project and community work of the 100BMOL click on donate 

You can apply to join the 100 Black Men of London via this link.

Links

  1. Simply Off The Wall – 100BMOL & Tiemo Tribute to Michael Jackson – 5th March 2015
  2. Future Young Leaders – 100BMOL Graduation Ceremony  – Tiemo Talk of the Town 25 July 2012
  3. Are Black Men an Endangered Species – 100BMOL An Audience with our Children – Review – Tiemo Talk of The Town – 20th July 2012

If you attended the show we’d love to read your comments so please feel free to share them directly on the comments section of the Blog.

Posted in Comedy Reviews, Comedy Reviews 2021 | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

McQueen Playing Silly Games with Lovers Rock

Lovers Rock
TV Rating: **
Broadcast: 22nd November 2020
Channel: BBC1 9pm

No no no
You don’t love me
And I know now.

Fans of the genre will recognise the above as the opening lines to Jamaican reggae artist Dawn Penn’s 1994 classic lovers rock anthem ‘No No No.’ Alas for ‘Lovers Rock’ director Steve McQueen, judging by the ensuing social media storm following the film’s broadcast, the song accurately sums up the feeling of many British fans of this genre of music. It was broadcast on prime time BBC1 30/11/2020 as part of the Small Axe series of 5 films from the celebrated Oscar winning Director.

Before I go into the detail of the review, I must firstly congratulate McQueen on getting this commission from the BBC for this and 4 other films, all being shown mid-evening on Sunday nights on BBC1. For decades Black programming has been shunted off till very late at night so the BBC are to be applauded for giving this series it’s backing and such a prestigious time slot.

Small Axe: Lovers Rock

The film evocatively captured the beautiful melodic Lovers Rock music, the good time blues/house party vibe, the romance, dancing, the friendships and tensions that can encapsulate all the elements of a night out. That’s great but the problem with it was that it was essentially a one scene movie – the blues party. People are used to watching such scenes literally as exciting scenes in a film. Not the whole film. The biggest failing of the film in fact was the lack of a clear story line. Essentially it was a soundtrack set to a dance. Fine, but that isn’t a film. Viewers could have just downloaded videos or played records if they wanted to hear the music.

It was clear from watching it that McQueen doesn’t know Lovers Rock and having looked into the background to this I now know this to be true. He has admitted in an interview that he’s never been to a blues party in his life. That doesn’t mean he can’t make a film about it, but he needed to do his research and/or lean heavily on those who knew the scene in order to convey authenticity. Considering there was a lovely cameo from the writer of Silly Games, Record Producer, Dennis Bovell, who would have known the scene very well, it’s surprising and disappointing that a more realistic film wasn’t produced.

The length of the film was unusual 69 minutes. Very short by today’s, even yester-years, standards. Why the extra 9 minutes? Well the answer to that is simple – it was the 9  minutes devoted to Janet Kay’s classic and much loved single ‘Silly Games’. I love the song but it was so stretched out it became laborious and un-enjoyable. I understand the desire to base the seminal moment of the film around this song, but this over milked the cow. By the time the credits rolled it almost felt as if Silly Games lasted for 60 minutes with just 9 minutes of film. That was plain silly and would have benefited from serious editing.

There were numerous scenes thrown in that seemed to make no sense and were out of kilter with the non-existent storyline and plot. For instance the two girls about to kiss in the bedroom at the party. That seemed un-necessary and added no value or entertainment to the story. There was a cross in the bedroom in which they sat, which made the scene almost blasphemous. There were a few symbolic signs of the cross in the story from time to time. It wasn’t entirely clear what they were saying other than signifying the Lord is present – be that in the house or on the street. It was also a nod to Martha’s Christian belief’s which aren’t really a feature of the story until a particular junction towards the finale.

The best friend leaving without her girlfriend. That never happens or at least not without discussion first (which didn’t happen) and even then it still doesn’t happen!

The scene with Martha just sitting directly on the toilet seat is also a big no no. I understand why it was there visually as from the bathroom she could see her friend leaving, but it just seemed forced and gratuitous.

The attempted rape scene of Cynthia was unrealistic and aside from the perpetrator being stopped and threatened there and then, he suffered no other consequence and returned to the dance as if nothing happened.

Then there was the scene with the guy arriving mid-way through the party all angry and extremely vexed with Martha (Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn) for not attending his mother’s funeral. There was no context whatsoever for this and him laying hands on the bouncer and not getting thumped down was unrealistic as was him having a go at lead actress Martha whilst her romantic lead, Franklyn (Micheal Ward) sat there watching and not stepping in to protect and defend her was also unrealistic.

It’s baffling that a film with no clear plot, storyline or narrative with plenty of padded out scenes made it through the rigorous commissioning and broadcasting process at the BBC.  

Surely an actual storyline could have been based around lover’s rock songs? That’s been done so successfully with so many films e.g. Mamma Mia and Bohemian Rhapsody to name but two. The Story of Lovers Rock documentary by Menelik Shabazz did this so well, mixing the music with interviews and anecdotes from the artists, comedians, and others who lived and loved the music at the time.

It is also a baffling mis-step to put this series on at 9pm on Sunday’s directly up against the brand new series of ITV’s hugely successful ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here!? It’s almost as if they’ve set up Small Axe to fail. A black orientated series was unlikely to fare well with such scheduling. Ratings thus far bear that out – 1.5m for Mangrove (which was a lot worse, in my view) and 1.2m for Lovers Rock. That’s a very poor return. That’s unsurprising for the reasons outline above and more so because there has been a total lack of promotion worthy of the name by the BBC. Whilst they did preview Small Axe months ago, now that the series is going out, there are no or very few trailers being shown. I had to search for them online including the one for ‘Red White and Blue’ broadcast on 29/11/2020. It’s just unacceptable. When has the BBC ever not massively promoted such a Sunday night series? It’s hugely disappointing and disrespectful all round to McQueen and the viewers. Why make the show if you’re not going to seriously back it and promote it fully?

Whilst the film was overall an enjoyable, highly watchable film, it just left a lot to be desired.

It’s quite telling that none of the Lovers Rock artists as far as I’m aware promoted or have talked online about the film on their social media. Unlike Leroy Logan, the ex-Police Sergeant and subject of ‘Red, White and Blue’, he, as well as the actor playing him, film star John Boyega, were fairly active with their social media, TV and radio appearances in the build up to the broadcast. Leroy’s seen the film and is clearly giving it his blessing so I have high hopes therefore that it will be a good film with a storyline! If not, I’m sure Logan has plenty of friends in the Police force who will be happy to pay McQueen a visit, so it had better be good for his sake!

As for Lovers Rock, well to quote another Dawn Penn classic, I think McQueen should just put his hands up and say “I’m So Sorry.”

© Tiemo Talk of the Town

Links

  1. Mo Gilligan: Black, British and Funny – Tiemo review – 29th November 2020
  2. What a Sorry Mess: ‘Sorry I Didn’t Know’ – Tiemo review – 9th November 2020
  3. Craig and Danny: Funny, Black and on TV – Tiemo review – 3rd November 2020
  4. Lenny Henry’s Race Through Comedy – Sky Gold (2019 ) – repeated 19-21st October 2020 and currently available to watch on Sky TV.
  5. Blue Story: A South Side Romance – Tiemo review – 1st December 2019

Posted in Concert reviews, TV | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Mo Gilligan: Black British and Funny – Review

Mo Gilligan: Black British and Funny
TV Rating: ****
Broadcast: 15th October 2020
Channel: Channel 4

Mo Gilligan goes on a journey through his comedy roots, shining a well-deserved light on the British Black comedy circuit of the past 30 years.

The Black British Stand-Up comedy circuit has been a thriving one for the last 30 years. However if you hadn’t in that time ventured out to many live gigs, relying on the numerous TV comedy shows for your entertainment and as a gauge to who’s hot and who’s not, you’d be forgiven for thinking Black British stand up comprises a handful of Comedians named Gina, Judi, Lenny, Richard and Stephen.

That’s far from the case and there are countless superb comedians doing their thing, or at least they were pre-Covid-19 times, on stages up and down the land, from Catford to Watford, from Southend to Bridgend. From small theatres like The Kiln in Kilburn, North London, to huge places such as the Hackney Empire in London’s East End, where some of the main interviews for this programme were filmed.

Mo Gilligan

Presenter Mo Gilligan’s journey started at the prestigious Hackney Empire – London’s equivalent to the New York Apollo theatre, where he had assembled a range of talent spanning different generations – including Angie Le Mar, Dane Baptiste, Eddie Kadi, Eddie Nestor, Llewella Gideon, Michael Dapaah, Slim and Thanyia Moore. Whilst the insights they offered were fascinating, the set up didn’t work so well due to socially distancing in the stalls. The format made it a little awkward for the conversation to flow smoothly and clearly they needed a little warm up to get going. I thought Angie’s opening gag re “playing the Empire before it was built” was funny but it went over most of the assembled gathering’s heads until she ‘woman-splained’ it!

Dane Baptiste was on point with his observation on the difference between the career opportunities of Black versus white comedians, commenting that Black comedians only get one opportunity to make it, whereas white comedians will get many more chances to impress, especially when it comes to TV comedy. He said white comedians can go off and do whimsical, flight of fancy comedy that raises a smile, as opposed to comedy that lifts the roof off. He’s found that a Black audience demands comedy that does just that by generating belly laughter that reverberates around the venue. It means such an audience can seem far harder to please, but in Baptiste’s view, if you can succeed with such an audience, you have the potential and talent to do that anywhere.

Nonetheless talent and potential is not in itself enough to make it out of the regular comedy circuit and on to bigger things. Many have proved themselves and earned their stripes on this toughest of circuits but that hasn’t translated into a progression to TV comedy, panel shows and national tours, which for many would be a desired comedy career path.

Gina Yashere, dejected after not getting her dues in England and knowing she was worth more, upped sticks and left for Los Angeles in 2007 and has never looked back. Her shows appear on major US channels and Netflix, including the first Nigerian-American sitcom, ‘Bob Hearts Abishola,’ featuring an all Nigerian cast. Gina was forthright in naming TV commissioners as the gatekeepers blocking her career progress and saw there was more chance of her talent being recognised, appreciated and financially rewarded stateside.

Baton Passing

Richard Blackwood was funny when remarking on how people now ask him if he knows Mo Gilligan, stating “I do, but they should be asking if Mo Gilligan knows me!”  That baton may be being passed on to the younger generation but Richard’s not ready to let go of it just yet! Good. That’s exactly as it should be. You have to earn the right to carry the comedy baton forward.

Mother and Son

It was wonderful to see the most direct baton passing of all as Gilligan interviewed Angie Le Mar with her son Travis Jay. Gilligan paid Travis a great complement by saying not everyone knows they are related. Travis could easily have made that well known, but chose to develop his own career, build up his own brand and following by standing on his own two feet and not relying on his mother for a helping hand up the comedy ladder.

What was fascinating was seeing the different generations talking about how they’d influenced one another. There were helpful contributions from stalwarts of the Stand Up comedy scene who’ve helped bring so many through – such as John Simmit, Quincy and Rudi Lickwood to name but three.

One of the most poignant moments was seeing Gilligan interviewing Slim, explaining how he looked up to him growing up and coming up on the comedy circuit. Slim revealed that in these pandemic times he is making ends meet outside of the comedy world, as are so many comedians. It was sad to hear that from someone so highly loved and rated on the black comedy circuit and regularly voted the Best Black Comedian in polls and award ceremonies. That didn’t sit right at all. You won’t find any of the most popular white, mainstream TV stand up comedians having to make a living outside of comedy during this pandemic. It felt like a tremendous injustice.

There are younger comedians who’ve broken through onto TV in the last decade who are not a patch on the likes of Slim, Curtis Walker, Richard Blackwood and Rudi Lickwood for instance, when it comes to talent, stage craft and ability to perform on the big stage, yet these stalwarts don’t seem to get the opportunity of appearing on Live at The Apollo, Mock the Week, Countdown Meets 8 out of 10 Cats etc.. and countless other stand up comedy or comedy panel shows which have served as vehicles that propel comedians to ever more  TV appearances and above all the national prominence and fame that goes with it and results in the ability to create a distinctive brand, tour nationwide and make serious money, for example, from DVD and book sales.

Why Aren’t Black British and Funny Comedians making it onto TV?

There have been some breakthroughs – American, Reginald D Hunter, compere Mo Gilligan of course (Momentum on Netflix plus various Channel 4 shows), Daliso Chaponda, Kojo Amin and Nabil Abdul Rashid for instance. The latter three did very well on the hugely popular Britain’s Got Talent making it through to Semi-Final and final stages in recent series. That just shows how well loved and understood Black comedy is. As an aside, I do think Nabil pushed the #BlackLivesMatter act a bit too far in his semi-final this year. Whilst it was amusing and absolutely perfect for a topical stand up gig, it was not for live TV when judges are at the serious, business end stage of the show and thinking about what the Queen would enjoy watching, which you have to remember is actually the ultimate goal of the show. That quite radical semi-final set probably cost Nabil what could have been a well earned place in the final.

I accept absolutely that TV Commissioners have been the ones holding back Black British Comedians, but it could be argued that there’s an element of some of the comedians being their own worst enemies that has to be considered.

Slim, A Dot and Richard Blackwood

I think there has been too much reliance on playing the big theatres on a bi-monthly basis with packed line ups featuring 6+ comedians in very long show’s going on till 11pm, nearly midnight. Whilst the shows are invariably highly entertaining they can feel like a marathon when a good quality 2 hours of entertainment would suffice. More comedians could and should have broken away from that to do one man/woman shows touring the country and moving away from the London centric comedy circuit. For example Richard Blackwood and Slim performed Bad Boys I and II in 2015 and 2018, selling out a couple of nights at the Hackney Empire. The second of these were when Blackwood was still in Eastenders. Once he’d left the show surely he should have capitalised on his new found fame and toured nationwide? Slim too surely should have gone on the road. No disrespect to others but those shows proved they didn’t need 5-6 supporting acts. 

Maybe they had their reasons. Regarding making it on TV, Slim’s talked about it not being for a want of trying. When it comes to things like that questions have to be asked of his agent for it was their job to market and promote their acts in order to enable them to achieve their goals. His agent without a doubt did well by him for years but didn’t achieve that ultimate goal. Maybe it just wasn’t about them and the commissioners are blocking top talent for reasons known only to them. He’s changed agent now so time will tell if that makes a difference.

Richard Blackwood performed a sensational, critically acclaimed one man play ‘Typical’ at the Soho Theatre in 2019. That deserved the opportunity to tour nationwide but alas it didn’t. Maybe he had other commitments. Could the show’s producer not have worked around that or offered the role to another actor. As a one man show that should have been feasible and it would have been highly pertinent, particular in the context of this year’s #BlackLivesMatters campaign.

I have to say also there can be lack of professionalism on the stand up circuit which if translated to TV won’t be tolerated and so that may well be another reason behind the failure for so many to breakthrough e.g. the notorious Black People Time, soon come attitude won’t wash with TV. Readers will be familiar with this if they attend Black stand up comedy or theatre productions. So infrequently do they start on time that it’s almost a running joke. Audiences aware of this tend to arrive late for shows and shows wait for audiences before they start. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and it shouldn’t be that way. Un-professionalism extends into some other areas too.

The Language is doubtless off putting too many people who would otherwise attend shows. I know it’s not unique to the Black circuit, but considering at least 1 in 5 black people (20%) are church goers it’s unlikely that they are going to take kindly to shows featuring profanity and vulgarity. There has been an heavy reliance on this for years. Even in this programme there was occasional swearing. It seemed out of place and un-necessary. There was a similar programme looking at the history of Black comedy on another channel just 2 days before this one. Not one swear word was uttered but it was just as valid and entertaining a programme as this one. The difference was that went out at prime time 8pm, this went out at 10pm. Such shows are a show case for talent so why spoil it be swearing? Just because the later time slot allows for swearing doesn’t mean it had to be taken advantage of.

Lack of Stand up Comedy

There was a noticeable absence of stand up comedy clips, which seemed like something of an own goal from a collective looking to break into the mainstream. This programme could have been enhanced with more comedy clips for the benefit of those not so familiar with the comedian’s featured. The stated aim of the show was to shine a spotlight on comedians, so it was a glaring omission not to show them doing what they do best.

Times Are a Changing

ITV have been at the forefront of change – with shows like Britain’s Got Talent featuring Daliso Chaponda, Kojo Amin and Nabil Abdul Rashid.  Jonathon Ross showcased a lot of new Black talent with the Jonathan Ross Comedy Club including Aurie Styla, Babatunde Aleshe, Michael Odewale and Sophie Duker.

All in all this was a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining programme  featuring contributions from so many stars of the black comedy circuit rarely seen on TV.  The talent is there and it’s not just a case of knocking at doors to get on television. The gatekeepers have to be willing to open the front door and let the talent through.

© Tiemo Talk of the Town

Links

  1. Craig and Danny: Funny, Black and on TV – Tiemo review – 3rd November 2020
  2. Lenny Henry’s Race Through Comedy – Sky Gold (2019 ) – repeated 19-21st October 2020 and currently available to watch on Sky TV.
  3. What a Sorry Mess: ‘Sorry I Didn’t Know’ – Tiemo review – 9th November 2020
  4. McQueen Playing Silly Games with Lovers Rock, BBC1 Film – Tiemo review – 29th November 2020 
Posted in Comedy Reviews 2020, TV | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

What a Sorry Mess: ‘Sorry I Didn’t Know’ – Review

Star Rating: *
ITV1
4 Episodes – Broadcast: 6th, 13th, 20th and 27th October 2020

Sorry I Didn’t Know (SIDK) was the much hyped new panel show during ITV’s Black History Month season of programming that was intended to be a programme highlighting Black history with humour with a range of comedians and actors. The show is capably hosted by Jimmy Akingbola, of ‘In The Long Run’ fame (Sky) with regular team leaders Chizzy Akudolu and Judi Love.

Each round of the show features a set of question comprising working out the name of a famous Black person from Yes/No questions, naming inventors of particular products and technologies, finishing a quote and putting a date to famous historical events.

Whilst ITV brought viewers a small range of entertaining, humorous and sometimes educational Black History programmes during October including ‘Alison Hammond: Back to School’, this regrettably wasn’t one of them. SIDK is very much a poor man’s QI, without the wit and humour of that legendary series. This one missed the mark by a country mile, dismally failing to be funny and any nuggets of information (and there were some) were lost in this very poor programme.

Jimmy Akingbola, Host

Whilst there was good natured banter between the team leaders and host, for the most part the panelists didn’t really gel well. I’m not saying they didn’t get on, more that the  spark and camaraderie between team members and opposition you usually see on panel shows was missing and it’s that what makes for good television.

Whilst I understand the need for social distancing when recording TV programmes in these Covid-19 times, there was s a hugely un-necessary social distance separating the two teams, yet the respective teams on each side sat quite close to one another, easily less than 2m apart, so there’s a glaring inconsistency in that.

In episode 1 Paul Chowdhury was aggressively rude in his attempts at humour, using an offensive term as his main recurring joke.

In episode 2, I don’t know what happened to the effusively entertaining Judi Love, but this Judi was a terrible, cringe making embarrassment. Bring back the real Judi Love. In a Guess the Name segment where she got to ask the panelist’s one question at a time to help her guess the famous person’s name, she would ask for instance, “Is it a man?” No. She’d then bizarrely follow up with a pointless, wasted question, “Is it a woman?” Her overall line of questioning was similarly appalling. I don’t think ‘Line of Duty’ will be calling her in to join the team any time soon!

Her team mate, celebrity comedian Russell Kane was not un-surprisingly visibly and vocally exasperated with Judi, asking why she was asking follow up questions with self-evident answers. It was as if she either didn’t know the game and/or was extremely tired. Something seemed very wrong. It wasn’t a good look at all and she’d have been better off not filming the episode at all than putting in a sub-standard, car crash of a performance. She was so bad, if it was a football match she’d have been substituted within the first 10 minutes.

Nathan Caton was on Chizzy’s team but didn’t say a single funny thing and presumably he wasn’t booked for his historical knowledge.  In fact, he didn’t say very much at all. Very odd. Russell Kane was this episode’s saving grace with his whining dance and witty asides. Other than that it was an awful episode.

The history board section where the team leaders have to point out historic dates was a good concept but didn’t work well at all. The board isn’t sufficiently well demarcated to enable the team leaders to put their marker on precise enough dates and with both team captain’s displaying limited history knowledge it was painful watching. Surely if you’re appointed team captain for a Black history show you would brush up on your history knowledge? Or maybe they took the title of the show too literally!

The series had some excellent, high profile guests including Angie Le Mar, Colin Salmon, Tom Allen, Russell Kane and Kerry Godliman. The latter 3 were a reversal of the norm for these type of panel shows, as they were the ‘token white’ guest on an otherwise all Black line up. I expected a lot more with the range of talent on each episode but it just didn’t work.

SIDK was first piloted by ITV in November 2016. It was rejected by all the major channels in the 4 years since. On the evidence of these 4 shows it’s obvious why that was. The premise of the show was fine and it has a lot of potential, but this just didn’t work. It would be great if it could be given a chance to improve and return for a second series, but sadly I think that’s highly unlikely. Never mind ‘Sorry I Didn’t Know,’ sorry would have covered it.

© Tiemo Talk of the Town

Links

  1. Craig and Danny: Funny, Black and on TV – Tiemo review – 3rd November 2020
  2. Sorry I Didn’t Know – ITV Player – Available to watch for a limited period of time.
  3. Black Voices – 1 minute videos – ITV Campaign – October 2020
Posted in Comedy Reviews, Comedy Reviews 2020, TV | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Craig and Danny: Funny, Black and on TV – Review

Star Rating: *****

Broadcast: ITV, 13th October 2020

You wait years for one documentary on Black British comedy then 2 come along not just in the space of one week, but in the space of 3 days in the second week of Black History Month.

Craig and Danny: Funny, Black and on TV (FBT) aired on ITV (13/10/2020). That was closely followed by the extremely well promoted ‘Black, British and Funny’ on Channel 4 on 15/10/2020. This show’s title comes from the co-hosts Craig Charles and Danny John-Jules of Red Dwarf fame, although they and that show are barely mentioned or seen on screen, but nonetheless that popular show’s contribution to the TV comedy landscape is undisputed, with it reportedly being the world’s most popular science fiction sit-com, running to 12 series over many years.

FBT takes the viewer on a journey through Black TV comedy from Charlie Williams in the 1970’s through to rising stars like Michaela Coel who broke through 5 years ago, in October 2015, with her hit Channel 4 series ‘Chewing Gum.’ The show’s title

What was clear from the programme was just how much of a glacially paced evolution it was, especially compared to other  TV comedy which saw the rapid rise of alternative comedy that spawned a generation of household names with enduring careers. Just think of ‘The Young Ones’, Rick Mayall, Alexia Sayle and Ben Elton to name but a few.

One has to wonder why Black comedy hasn’t evolved and travelled faster and further than it has, for I would argue that the quality and TV ratings have always been there. Could it be attributed to racism, the gatekeepers to what appears on our televisions i.e. TV commissioners, low ratings or the disinterest of the British public?

I shall return to answer that question later, but what is clear is that must be some very tired shoulders out there as it was evident from FBT that so many of the country’s much loved stars have at various times stood on one another’s shoulders in a manner that facilitated different generations the opportunity to breakthrough and move things along in terms of representation.

This journey started with Charlie Williams, born in 1927 Barnsley. His father was from Barbados and his mother was a born and bred Yorkshire lass. Williams came through on the Northern working men’s club circuit. Winning over those tough crowds was no mean feat for a Black man in the 1970’s (it probably would be almost as tough to do so today). His act won over these audiences, got spotted by TV executives and ultimately secured starring roles in various TV shows, the pinnacle of which was ITV’s The Golden Shot (1973-74) taking over from the late, legendary comedy superstar Bob Monkhouse. That was quite exceptional for at the time it was the biggest show on TV.

Rudolph Walker

From there the next major breakthrough was Love Thy Neighbour (1972-76) starring Rudolph Walker, Jack Smethurst, Nina Baden-Semper and Kate Williams. The show was hugely popular, commanding massive audiences of up to 17m. That was fascinating as the show was focused on the inter- racial relationship, dynamics playing out between a white couple played by Jack and Kate alongside that of the neighbouring Black couple played by Rudolph and Nina. Whilst the women got along famously, the men were regularly at loggerheads over racial issues. A new incarnation of this probably wouldn’t get shown today but it was seen as funny for its time and regularly highlighted the bigotry and idiocy of Jack’s racist views. This show was something of a first for British TV and clearly struck a chord with viewers.

Nine years after Love They Neighbour ended, the BBC brought us a similar show – In Sickness and In Health (1985-92) that portrayed Waren Mitchell’s Alf Garnett character as a racist bigot and Eamonn Walker’s Winston as a perfectly fine, regular human being, who gave as good as he got without stooping to Garnett’s level.

Sandwiched between these legendary shows the country continued to wrestle with real life race relations in a battling way. In the early 1970’s the country had entered perilous waters following Enoch Powell’s infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech (20th April 1968). It was an era when intense race relations combined with recession and poverty, disproportionately impacted the Black community and boiled over into the historic race riots of 1981 in Brixton (London), Toxteth (Liverpool), Handsworth (Birmingham), Chapeltown (Leeds) and Moss Side (Manchester) and other towns and cities across England.

In a way many of the TV shows highlighted above merely prodded , with gentle humour, at the racial issues and tensions impacting thousands of Black people. 

Sir Lenny Henry

From there the show moved on to national treasure, Sir Lenny Henry, who of course got his big break via appearing in and winning New Faces (1975), the forerunner to shows like Britain’s Got Talent. I think we all know how New Faces catapulted the then 16 year old Lenny Henry from Dudley into the illuminatingly bright glare of the national spotlight which remarkably for an industry as fickle as show business has stayed with him ever since.

Sir Lenny Henry PhD

His stock rose immeasurably over the years leading to Lenny becoming, as TV Producer Terry Jervis, aptly put it as “a one man brand.” This arguably peaked with Lenny becoming a knight of the realm for his TV career and extraordinary charity fundraising through Comic Relief which he co-founded. In between all that TV and theatre work he impressively managed to fit in studying for and achieving a Masters degree and PhD.

From there FBT revisited The Fosters (1976-77) – the first Black British sitcom. Alas it was axed after just 2 series.

For years it was just Lenny Henry representing the whole of Black British comedy as far as TV were concerned. Stand up comedians and TV audiences would understandably be wondering if there was something in the old Stephen K Amos joke that “for others to get a break Lenny Henry would have to die.” Fortunately that’ drastic event has proved not to be necessary.

Since The Fosters there have been a number of notable series – Desmond’s (1989-94); The Real McCoy (1991-96) – finally released on BBC Store a few years ago and on BBC I-player in July 2020 (all 5 series) as well as 3 Non-Blondes (2003).

Curtis Walker – The Real McCoy

The real McCoy as Gina Yashere commented, “was like the holy grail. All Black comedians wanted to get on it.” She was booked to appear, but at the last minute they booked someone else so she missed out. That was their loss. I wonder who took her place. She never did say!

The Real McCoy was a much loved mix of stand up and sketches that went down a treat with Black audiences starved of seeing a good representation of themselves on TV.

Richard Blackwood

Richard Blackwood was the first major Black TV comedian to make it and sustains a career on TV since Sir Lenny Henry. As he immodestly but accurately said, at one point “Everything I touched turned to gold.” He appeared on various shows, peaking with ‘The Richard Blackwood Show’ on Channel 4 (1999-2000). Alas this was axed after just 1 series in March 2001.

A year before this Sacha Baron Cohen spectacularly arrived on the scene with Da Ali G Show (2000-04 which first aired on Channel 4 on 31st March 2000. Blackwood admitted to feeling understandably aggrieved by that turn of events, as he was doing just fine, being himself, representing his community in a positive way, only to be cast side for someone who was perceived to be culturally appropriating and mocking one aspect of Black culture.

Personally I didn’t think Sacha Baron Cohen meant any harm by Ali G and found him to be immensely funny and as his film and TV career has clearly demonstrated, Sacha Baron Cohen wasn’t a flash in the pan overnight success. Many others could have quite easily have lived off the success of Ali G and stayed with that character for years, but he chose to evolve, develop other characters and move away from Ali G.

Felix Dexter

It was lovely to see the late Felix Dexter, who died in 2013, remembered in the tributes to comedy greats of yesteryear. Angie Le Mar said, “He should have been a huge star. He had it all.

Gina Yashere

So with the somewhat glacial progress and clear limits on progression from stand up comedy to TV, what’s a comedian to do? Well many head state side. They often return perhaps realising that the grass isn’t always greener. Gina Yashere uprooted and moved, lock stock and barrel to USA in 2007. Richard Blackwood commented, “We thought she’d be back in 6 months as that’s what always happens.” Not this time. 13 years on and Gina’s stock is still rising in America with her shows appearing on major TV channels and Netflix including the first Nigerian-American sitcom Bob Hearts Abishola featuring an all Nigerian cast. As Dane Baptise put it, “she’s made huge strides for Black comedians and Black people worldwide.

Chewing Gum

Micheala Coel is a genius,” said Gina Yashere of the writer and actor of Channel 4’s hugely popular ‘Chewing Gum (2015). Richard Blackwood was equally effusive, describing Coel as “an amazing comedy writer.” Chewing Gum won a BAFTA ‘Breakthrough Talent’ award in 2016. Llewella Gideon admired Coel as “she presents 3 dimensional characters. That means you see past race.”

Memory Lane

FBT was funny, entertaining and educational. It was a fabulous trip down memory lane that showcased the evolution of Black British television comedy over the last 50 years.

In a way the many clips shown were symbolic. They whetted the appetite for more, reminded you of the transience of the Black presence on TV. Aside from Sir Lenny Henry, The Real McCoy and Richard Blackwood, few of the shows or its stars have had long running series or achieved as much in television as their potential and talent merited.

I know many sitcoms and shows come and go and have a set time in the spotlight, but many of them were repeatedly commissioned and appeared on our TV screens series after series, year after year. Black British comedy and comedians have not been so fortunate.

As this programme vividly demonstrated the talent is and has always been there going right back to Charlie Williams in the 1970’s. It didn’t go away. It simply went underground. Those who follow the Black comedy circuit know this and will have been able to follow many of these talented comedians on stage performing stand up comedy or acting.

Why has there been a paucity of long running Black British Television Programmes?

Going back to my initial question, I posited three possible reasons. Firstly. Was the talent not there? This show, the live experience on the Black comedy and theatre circuit, not to mention a number of hit shows on You Tube such as Meet the Adebanjos (2012) and All About the McKenzie’s (2016) which eventually were picked up by TV, shows it was there, so it cannot be that.

Secondly, were the ratings not high enough? Possibly that would have been a factor. However Charlie Williams hosted the highest rated show on at the time; Lenny Henry won the X Factor of the day, New Faces in 1975. Love Thy Neighbour pulled in 17m viewers. The Real McCoy lasted for 6 years (1989-1995) thus demonstrating a longevity that proved there was a demand and love for Black comedy.

Aside from some of these examples I accept that some Black orientated programming is not necessarily going to compete with the likes of mainstream shows such as Only Fools and Horses, Eastenders etc.. but very few shows do that anyway. Besides, the BBC and Channel 4, in particular, have a public service broadcaster remit to serve the entire UK population, which means programmes should specifically be made and broadcast to appeal to minority ethnic groups who also pay their licence fee and therefore should be represented on television.

There is a third possibility. Could it be that the gatekeepers, the TV commissioners who decide what goes on TV and what gets re-commissioned have kept Black talent of our screens for too long? As those people tend not to be minority ethnic that could be the most significant, most plausible reason. Many will find that conclusion extremely disheartening and misguided. I appreciate part of their concerns may be TV ratings, but as highlighted above, the ratings for shows featuring Black talent, even those covering controversial topics, have not harmed audience figures in the last 50 years. I believe there has been a great interest, fascination in exploring this and seeing it acted out on TV in shows such as Love Thy Neighbour, Mind Your Language and In Sickness and in Health.

When it comes to pure comedy and humour the ratings indicate that the mainstream TV audience do enjoy Black comedy. Did the TV executives bar the likes of Jewish Comedian Jackie Mason at the height of his career, despite him performing routines that focused on his Jewish-ness? They did not.

Where does Black British TV Comedy Go From Here?

Will this show and Mo Gilligan’s ‘Black, British and Funny’ be game changers in any sort of way? We’ll see. Though you don’t see many shows like this on TV, we’ve been here before just one year ago in fact (October 2019), when Sky Gold broadcast the excellent 3 part series: Lenny Henry’s Race Through Comedy.

ITV should rightly be highly commended for this show and a great deal of what they’ve been doing with their programming this year be that with Britain’s Got Talent, not just because of the Diversity furore and their supportive stance, but for all the Black talented comedians and magicians on the recent series and the wonderfully diverse representation depicted in countless TV adverts. I believe that audiences would love to see as much visible, unmissable diversity with their regular TV programming as viewers have been seeing with their far more diverse commercials, local TV news and new presenter representation.

Little has changed significantly and consistently over the last 50 years, but I would hope that any reflections and considerations on these shows will result in a greater number of and more sustained, quality, diverse Black programming, plus the all important re-commissioning of programmes, be they good or average, in order to give them and the talent appearing on screen and off screen the same opportunity to grow and develop as other communities get. That’s how you demonstrate true commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion. You have to allow people a chance to succeed. To fail and to go again just as they do with mainstream talent and programming. That clearly hasn’t happened enough. If the TV stations are serious about representation and want to have more Funny, Black and on TV they know what they to do.

© Tiemo Talk of the Town

Photographs © Tony Attille

  1. Craig and Danny: Funny, Black and on TV – Available on ITV-Player until 11/11/2020.
  2. Lenny Henry’s Race Through Comedy – Sky Gold (2019 ) – repeated 19-21st October 2020 and currently available to watch on Sky TV.
  3. What a Sorry Mess: ‘Sorry I Didn’t Know’ – Tiemo review – 9th November 2020
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