BBC sketch show Famalam has been “backed to the hilt” by comedy boss Shane Allen in the row over a sketch featuring a satirical Jamaican version of Channel 4 quiz program Countdown.
The clip was tweeted by BBC Three last week ahead of the show’s Season 3 premiere on Sunday. It went viral, stoking anger after it appeared to invoke stereotypes about Jamaican people. You can watch the sketch below.
Jamaican foreign minister Kamina Johnson-Smith tweeted that she would be ”writing formally” to the BBC about the matter. She said the parody “is outrageous and offensive to the incredible country which I am proud to represent along with every Jamaican at home and within our diaspora.”
It followed a complaint from the Global Jamaica Diaspora Counsel representative for South UK, Nathaniel L Peat, that “the Jamaican community in the UK have expressed serious concerns at how offensive the content in this show is.”
But speaking today at the online Edinburgh TV Festival, Allen said: “Don’t dis my beloved Famalam. To be relevant in comedy at a time when things can feel more anodyne and in this one culture when things are getting a little bit more sensitive and amplified social media storms are becoming Daily Mail articles, to be relevant and finger on the pulse is where we want to be. If you’re going to do something about tricky topics it needs to be from those communities or from those people who’ve got that voice.
“Famalam were doing Black Lives Matter sketches in series two; series one, police brutality. They were doing all these things which are so relevant and important and to me, that’s what a sketch show looks like in 2020. It’s these voices and guys, I back them to the hilt.”
BBC Three controller Fiona Campbell added: “Famalam’s now in its third series it’s very successful creators have had some BAFTA wins for them. It’s not malicious humor and I think if you followed on social the creators said they’re poking fun at all stereotypes there isn’t malice in the type of content.
“The minister has the right to make the complaint; I think they made the comments before the whole series had been released but we stand by the creators’ brand of humor.”
Campbell went on to say that plans to bring back BBC Three’s linear TV channel are in the in-tray of new BBC director general Tim Davie, who starts next week.
“It’s something the corporation has got under active consideration. He’s obviously going to have that on his list of decisions…probably to make in his first quarter… anything that gives a boost to BBC Three content which is trying to reflect the lives across the whole of the UK is obviously a good thing…but obviously the corporation has got quite significant savings to make across the piece.”
She also confirmed that the next season of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK has been interrupted after someone on the show tested positive for coronavirus: “Yes it was interrupted… it’s currently being regrouped. Hopefully, if they all stay well…we will get it done by the end of the year.”
Allen said many of his department’s shows are now restarting including Worzel Gummidge. However, when asked about when Gavin & Stacey, Motherland and This Time with Alan Partridge might return, he said: “The press team would kill me. They’re all so beloved and we obviously want more but there’s timing issues on all of those.”
Living up to his title, Allen kicked off his session by putting down a phone and joking: “Sorry, it was Channel 4. They want to buy another old format. Ian Katz he’s taken more treasures than the British Museum that fella.”
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