Press clippings

Ten comics who donned blackface

Keith Lemon creator Leigh Francis last week apologised for mimicking black celebrities including Michael Jackson and Craig David on Bo' Selecta! 'I've been talking to some people,' he said in a tearful statement in the wake of the intensifying Black Lives Matter campaign. 'I didn't realise how offensive it was back then.' But he's far from the only comedian to flirt with blackface, long after its racism became apparent.

Chortle, 8th June 2020

Watching unPC sitcoms should be part of the curriculum

The BBC's remakes of Till Death Us Do Part and Are You Being Served? are only to be appreciated through the filter of irony. But things like It Ain't Half Hot Mum weren't malicious.

James Delingpole, The Spectator, 1st September 2016

John Inman accused of historic sex abuse

The family of Are You Being Served? star John Inman reacted with fury yesterday as he became the latest celebrity to be accused of historic sex abuse.

The Daily Express, 1st February 2016

Vicious is cliched and outdated, says Barry Cryer

Veteran comedy writer says show about an ageing gay couple would make John Inman look restrained.

Jason Deans, The Guardian, 18th June 2013

What a line-up for a sitcom; three of our most accomplished actors - Ian McKellen, Derek Jacobi and Frances de la Tour - star, and the writers are the super-talented playwright Mark Ravenhill and Gary Janetti, who used to work on Will & Grace, one of the classiest comedies on American television in decades. And what do you get? Well, not quite the laugh fest that it might have been (or may yet become), but an opener that had a reasonable hit rate.

Vicious is another back-to-the-future comedy, a one-room sitcom with two of the queeniest gay men to grace our screens since the dear departed Larry Grayson and John Inman. If Dick Emery's Clarence had made an appearance he wouldn't have looked out of place and, with De la Tour's presence, it could be called Rising Camp (sadly not my line - I nicked it).

Freddie (McKellen) and Stuart (Jacobi) are a bickering, gossipy gay couple who live in crepuscular gloom in their Covent Garden flat. Freddie is a never-has-been actor ("You may have seen me in a scene in Doctor Who") who has long since lost his Wigan accent; Stuart is a one-time barman who is still not out to his mother. He's waiting for the right time - "It's been 48 years!" cries Freddie.

Into the flat upstairs moves the attractive youngster Ash (Iwan Rheon), who attracts appreciative looks both from the men and their faghag friend Violet (De la Tour); most of last night's episode concerned their convoluted attempts to find out if he was gay or straight. Don't people just ask if they're interested to know?

The cast are clearly having fun with the bitchy lines, but Jacobi is overdoing the flounce and Ash is as yet underwritten. Too much of Vicious relies on tired comedy tropes; older people are gagging to have sex with people young enough to be their grandchildren, they don't know anything about youth culture ("Is Zac Efron a person or a place?" Violet asks); or they're deaf, dotty and fall asleep easily. Oh please. As for the double rape "joke" everyone involved should be ashamed of themselves, including director Ed Bye.

On the evidence of last night's first episode Ravenhill and Janetti can't decide if Vicious is lazy retro fun for all the family, or an edgy post-watershed show that's taking us to places never previously negotiated on British TV. Let's hope it's the latter over its seven-week run.

Veronica Lee, The Arts Desk, 30th April 2013

Does Vicious mark end of invisible gay TV characters?

New sitcom Vicious features a camp gay couple as leads. It may feel like a throwback, but it shows how far TV has come, from John Inman's flouncing character in Are You Being Served? and presenters using 'gay' as an insult.

Ben Summerskill, The Guardian, 29th April 2013

We do love a bit of camp, we Brits. Frankie Howerd, Larry Grayson, Dick Emery, Mr Humphries aka John Inman all perpetuated the non-threatening camp stereotype in the sixties and seventies - unlimited innuendo but no sex please, we're British.

That all changed in the eighties with the coming of alternative comedy and the black leather-clad Julian Clary. Camp's hidden agenda was well and truly outed, paving the way for Rhona Cameron, Graham Norton, Simon Fanshawe and others to do full-frontal gay comedy, warts and all.

In The Archive Hour, Simon Fanshawe traced the history of gay comedy over the past 30 years, from the double standards of Howerd and Grayson, always fearful of alienating the audience by appearing openly homosexual, through the overtly gay material of Clary and Cameron to today's more androgynous approach, where the quality of the material counts for more than any concerns about sexuality.

You got the impression Julian Clary quite missed the shock and awe days of the eighties - "I enjoyed the sharp intake of breath when I crossed the line" - though Fanshawe was in no doubt that today's open-minded audiences were much to be preferred.

Graham Norton said he soon got bored with doing gay jokes, having traded on his gayness at first, and consciously started to introduce other subjects. "I was lucky in that I could do Irish jokes as well as gay jokes," he said.

I'd never heard of the Australian Brendan Burns, a straight stand-up who does a funny line in anti-homophobic material, nor the Anglo-Bengali gay stand-up Paul Sinha, but their contributions sent me scurrying off to YouTube to see further exposure.

Nick Smurthwaite, The Stage, 28th September 2010

"Before we go any further, Mr Rumbold, Miss Brahms and I would like to complain about the state of our drawers. They're a positive disgrace." This was about as sophisticated as Are You Being Served? got, yet it ran for 69 episodes from 1972 to 1985, becoming one of Britain's best-loved sitcoms. Despite its reliance on tame innuendo and catchphrases, it showcased impeccable comic acting from Wendy Richard and Mollie Sugden, who both died last year. The show also made a star of the late John Inman. His character, the mincing menswear fitter Mr Humphries, was criticised by gay rights groups, but Inman was later hailed as a gay icon (especially in San Francisco, after the series became a cult hit on US TV in the 1980s). This documentary tells the sitcom's story. It's preceded by profiles of Sugden and Inman, and 1975's Christmas special; afterwards there's a colourisation of the original black and white pilot episode. Wonder what colour they'll make Mrs Slocombe's... hair?

The Telegraph, 1st January 2010

This short-lived ITV sitcom came and went in 1981. It starred Are You Being Served?'s John Inman as a male secretary to businesswoman Rula Lenska (ex Mrs Dennis Waterman, recently of Celebrity Big Brother fame). For what little comedy it was able to generate, it relied very heavily on exploiting the role-reversal.

Lorna Cooper, MSN Entertainment, 12th August 2008

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