This is why Little Britain has been pulled from online streaming services

Wednesday, 10th June 2020, 1:02 pm
Updated Wednesday, 10th June 2020, 1:03 pm
Little Britain has been criticised for its use of characters such as Desiree DeVere, played by David Walliams in blackface (Photo: BBC)
Little Britain has been criticised for its use of characters such as Desiree DeVere, played by David Walliams in blackface (Photo: BBC)

With renewed focus on race and representation following the Black Lives Matter protests, comedy shows, Little Britain and Come Fly With Me, have both come under fire for their use of blackface by their two stars, David Walliams and Matt Lucas.

The shows have subsequently been removed from various streaming platforms - this is everything you need to know.

Why has Little Britain been removed from streaming sites?

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Little Britain has been at the centre of controversy since it first aired in 2003 on BBC Three, due to its material.

The show included characters like Ting Tong, a Thai mail order bride played by Lucas, and Desiree DeVere, a black woman played by Walliams in full blackface.

Come Fly With Me first aired in 2010, and featured Walliams and Lucas playing a variety of non-white characters, like Omar Baba, the Arab owner of the airline played by Walliams, and Precious Little, played by Lucas, a Jamacian woman.

With a renewed focus on race equality across the globe following Black Lives Matter protests, both shows have come under fire again for their material and have subsequently been removed from a variety of streaming platforms.

The sites it has been removed from are the BBC iPlayer, Netflix and NOW TV.

Speaking to the Mail Online, a spokesperson for the BBC said that the show had been removed due to the fact that “times have changed”.

They said: “There’s a lot of historical programming available on BBC iPlayer, which we regularly review.

“Times have changed since Little Britain first aired so it is not currently available on BBC iPlayer.”

Britbox, a streaming platform that’s a collaboration between the BBC and ITV, made a similar statement, saying: “Times have changed since Little Britain first aired, so it is not currently available on Britbox.

“Come Fly With Me has not been available on the service for six months.”

A spokesperson for the streaming giant Netflix told The Guardian “no comment” but added that they “can confirm that we removed both titles on Friday last week”.

NOW TV also said that it had removed Little Britain for the same reasons.

What has Matt Lucas said about the show?

In 2017, Lucas expressed regret over the jokes and characters made in the show.

In an interview with the Big Issue in 2017, he said: “If I could go back and do Little Britain again, I wouldn’t make those jokes about transvestites. I wouldn’t play black characters.

“Basically, I wouldn’t make that show now. It would upset people. We made a more cruel kind of comedy than I’d do now. Society has moved on a lot since then, and my own views have evolved.”

Lucas said that it was “lazy” for white people to play black characters for a joke, but also that there was “no bad intent”.

Walliams agreed with his co-creator in an interview with Radio Times in 2018, also saying he would “definitely do it differently”.

Will other shows be taken offline?

League of Gentlemen features a character in blackface as well, and it is still currently available to watch on both BBC iPlayer and Netflix.

The Mail Online asked the BBC if League of Gentlemen would also be getting removed, to which a spokesperson said: “The change only affects Little Britain.”

Bo’Selecta saw Leigh Francis (best known for playing Keith Lemon) impersonate black celebrities like Trisha Goddard, Craig David and Mel B.

Francis recently apologised for the show, posting a video to Instagram, where he said: “Back in 2002, I did a show called Bo’Selecta, I portrayed many black people. Back then I didn’t think anything about it. People didn’t say anything, I’m not going to blame other people.

“I didn’t realise how offensive it was. I just want to say sorry for any upset I caused whether I was Michael Jackson, Craig David, Trisha Goddard.”

In the caption to the video, he wrote: “Following recent events, I’ve done a lot of talking and learning and I would like to put this out there. I want to apologise to anyone that was offended by Bo’Selecta. I’m on a constant journey of knowledge and just wanted to say I’m deeply sorry. #blacklivesmatter.”

The show however is still available to watch on Amazon Prime.

How have fans reacted?

The online reaction to the news of Little Britain and Come Fly with Me getting pulled from streaming platforms has been mixed, with some defending the shows due to their use of satire and others pleased that the shows have been taken down.

Taking to Twitter, the public have expressed their feelings about the move.

One person wrote: “Daily reminder that it’s ok to change your mind. Did you enjoy Little Britain when it first aired, but now find yourself feeling bad about liking something with such obviously racist overtones? Great! It shows you’ve grown as a person and developed!”

Another tweeted: “So happy to see people finally tearing into David Walliams and Matt Lucas. Little Britain has done irreparable damage to how the British perceive trans, black and disabled people.”

“Little Britain was crap. It was among the most unpleasant and bigoted mainstream TV shows. It’s been nauseating seeing Matt Lucas and David Walliams marketing themselves as progressives etc while profiting from blackface and entrenching vile stereotypes,” wrote another user.

On the other hand, the news hasn’t been quite as welcome to some Twitter users.

One person tweeted: “Little Britain was called Little Britain because it drew attention to, erm, small-minded attitudes in Britain. What do Walliams and Lucas have to apologise for; being funny? I’ll be keeping my box set.”

“I simply cannot understand the removal of Little Britain and Come Fly With Me off BBC iPlayer/Britbox. You can’t whitewash away bad s**t, yes those jokes have aged badly but you can’t hide it. Literally the best thing to do is just put a warning like this before each episode,” wrote another, attaching a screenshot of a warning that Warner Bros put before some older cartoons that feature offensive material.

The warning reads: “The cartoons you are about to see are the products of their time. They may depict some of the ethnic and racial prejudices that we’re commonplace in American society. These depictions were wrong then and are wrong today. While the following does not represent the Warner Bros view of today’s society, these cartoons are being presented as they were originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed.”