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Deacon New

by | 9th, February 2006

‘“YOU want to spend time with them. You don’t despise them. You’re laughing with, not at them.” So says David Walliams, the straight man in the Little Britain double act.

Joey and a friend

As Mick Hume, writing in the Times rightly puts it, Walliams’s self-justification for the shows grotesque and badly drawn characters is the only really funny thing about it.

This is comedy made expressly for people who have an infantile sense of humour.

Which is fine if you are an infant – or, as PG Wodehouse wrote of that great comic creation Bertie Wooster, “mentally negligible”, an adult with an infant brain.

When you’re young everyone is bigger than you. Laughing at them is funny. The big people fall down. You laugh. They step on a sandcastle in which you’ve secreted a fresh dog turd (Bournemouth beach promenade 1976 and onwards) and you can’t breathe you’re laughing so hard.

But one day the joke suddenly stops working. It’s only funny if, say, Prince Edward or Tony Blair nonchalantly boots that sandy poo. The target has to be bigger than the joke teller.

Little Britain just picks on little people. It pokes fun at the stupid, the desperate and even the crippled. All very hilarious if you are aged about eight; the characters, even the one seated in a wheelchair, are bigger and more powerful than you. Laugh at them while you can, before you realise that the poor sod could be you one day.

Steve Devrell, a primary school teacher, says that young viewers don’t see the show’s, er, biting satire. For them, being the only gay in the village means laughing at the fat poof.

Writing in the Independent, Mr Devrell, of Chapel Fields Junior School, Solihull, says, “The characters become heroes to many children and large parts of the scripts are learned and reeled off without really understanding the self-mocking style of the humour.”

In short, children have no truck with the adults’ attempts to rationalise and dissect the one Little Britain gag. They laugh at what they are supposed to. They laugh at the little people.

And, according to the Mail, this has, apparently, led to bullying, the creation of “little bigots” in the playground. The sketch that shows members of the women’s association vomiting at the mention of anyone who is not white or heterosexual has, as the story goes, led to pupils pretending to vomit at ethnic minorities.

“Children as young as seven can mimic word perfectly the characters of Matt Lucas and David Williams. What they are less able to grasp are the implications of their mimicry,” says Devrell in the Indy.

And this is where he’s wrong. Children know exactly what they are doing. No programme, however puerile, made them go up to someone and pretend to vomit. Just as no child at school in the 1980s was made to call their peers a “Joey”.

Remember Joey Deacon? He was the cerebral palsy victim with the misshapen arms and legs. He’d been institutionalised when young. He looked like he was always trying to bite his shoulder.

In 1981, the BBC children’s show Blue Peter made him the face of International Year of The Disabled. Joey would get us giving until it hurt.

But the Beeb got it wrong. Children saw the man, saw their classmates, contorted their faces and took to calling each other “Joey”.

You might well be appalled – you should be. If you want to be appalled some more there’s a website that will explain the thing, capturing the mood of those dark days. Take a look at: And shake your head in shame.

Children are cruel. Childish humour can be vicious. But Little Britain is no more responsible for bullying than Joey Deacon asked to be mocked.

All Little Britain has done is take the humour that saw children call each other “spasmo” and “Joey” and bring it into the mainstream.’

Posted: 9th, February 2006 | In: Celebrities Comment | TrackBack | Permalink