Radio 4 piloting free speech show Unsafe Space

ExclusiveTuesday 21st December 2021, 3:58pm by Jay Richardson

Andrew Doyle

Radio 4 is piloting a "provocative" debate show with outspoken, free speech advocating comedians, including Tony Law and Titania McGrath creator Andrew Doyle, British Comedy Guide can exclusively reveal.

Recording of the stand-up aspects of Unsafe Space take place next month at the Backyard Comedy Club in London, to air in February, and will also feature Leo Kearse, Mary Bourke, Nick Dixon and George Zach.

Produced by former The Now Show performer Jon Holmes for his company Unusual Productions (The Skewer), the broadcast pilot will also include other contributors, discussions and interviews on a variety of subjects in a pub and various outdoor locations, and aims to provoke thought and embrace diversity, "especially diversity of opinion across the socioeconomic divide".

The current line-up, who are all regulars at the self-proclaimed "home of free thinking comedy" Comedy Unleashed nights held at the Backyard in Bethnal Green, includes only one woman and no non-white comedians.

However, Holmes says that recruitment is ongoing and that "the plan is for it to have a wide range of voices from across the 'viewpoint' spectrum ... The aim is to be a bit more grown up than everyone shouting at each other on Twitter!"

Unsafe Space's executive producer is Bill Dare (The Mary Whitehouse Experience, The Now Show).

Leo Kearse

The BBC has been challenged on its conception of diversity by critics such as Kearse, a sometime commentator on its radio shows. He maintains that the corporation's comedy output doesn't afford enough opportunities to right-wing and working-class voices, while relying too heavily on Oxbridge graduates.

Last year he told The Sun that BBC producers came to see his live improv show Hate 'n' Live at the Backyard, in which comics improvise an argument for hating something based on it being plucked out of a bucket, and "loved it".

But, he added, "the commissioners, paranoid about what the cretins on Twitter - and more importantly for them, their dinner party chums - will think of them, say it is too dangerous."

Doyle, Kearse, Bourke and Dixon were among a group of "conservative" acts championed to be featured on the BBC by anti-woke pressure group The Campaign For Common Sense last year, following somewhat dubious analysis of the political opinions of comics who appeared on the corporation's television and radio programming during November 2020.

Mark Lehain, the Conservative-supporting director of the group and a policy advisor to Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi, used the group's findings to lobby BBC director-general Tim Davie to shift the corporation's comedy booking policy away from what he perceived as a left-wing, anti-Brexit bias.
"The BBC is one of the few organisations with the resources and clout to break acts and take them through from open mic slots to nationwide audiences," he said. "However, there has long been a feeling that comedians of a left-liberal leaning seem to get disproportionate airtime. This report's analysis suggests that there is something to this.

"It is worrying that the range of views held by the artists and acts [the BBC] uses is so unbalanced and does not reflect in any way those of the intended audience - the UK population."

A BBC spokesperson replied: "We don't analyse our comedy by comparing numbers. We judge it on it being funny, how popular it is and whether it reflects a range of different voices and views."

Tickets for Unsafe Space's recording on January 17th are available from

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