Oh No! It’s a top-ten list

Easter is fast approaching which must mean that by now you’re sick of chocolate eggs and will need to seek out something different to eat whilst slumped in front of the television watching yet another list show, something along the lines of The Top Ten Most Sexist/Racist/Homophobic Sitcoms Ever on Channel Four or Five.

However, being a pioneer of, well, nothing much really I’ve decided to produce my own top ten. It won’t feature a not very funny female/black/gay “comedian” ranting about programmes they’ve never seen, it won’t be riddled with reality show blandees with shock and offence as fake as their tan, it won’t even feature Andrew Collins. In fact it won’t be on television at all. In a move that they will undoubtedly come to regret no broadcaster has chosen to commission this particular top ten, and so it’ll remain here, languishing amongst the indistinct, waiting for someone to click on a wrong link and maybe raise an eyebrow or three.

And so I give you my personal choice for the Top Ten ITV Sitcoms. It is entirely arbitrary, based on nothing but my own opinions, and you are welcome to disagree.

 
10. Whoops Apocalypse

A pre-Young Ones Rik Mayall appeared in this short-lived Andrew Marshall and David Renwick-penned sitcom from 1982, alongside British comedy stalwarts including John Barron, Geoffrey Palmer, John Cleese and Richard Griffiths plus Alexei Sayle in the only thing he was ever any good in.

Doomsday is just days away and Johnny Cyclops, former film star and now useless, perpetually bewildered US President, based not very loosely on Ronald Reagan, is cajoled even bullied from catastrophe to catastrophe by The Deacon (John Barron) and his advisers whose belief in God is as doting as it is futile. Our hero is looking to capture the deadly Quark Bomb, which has been stolen by International French terrorist, Lacrobat (John Cleese) who sends his enemies videos of his many previous evil deeds with bona fides provided by the supposedly rich and powerful throughout the world but who look curiously like Cleese himself.

Also on the hunt for the bomb is Rasim, the exiled Shah of Iran, who finds himself stuck on a cross-channel ferry in the English Channel during a strike with his aide Abdab (“a thousand apologies…”) and seem to spend most of their time in compromising positions in the toilet.

Add to this a left-wing British Prime Minister Kevin Pork (Peter Jones), who thinks he’s Superman and struts aimlessly around Number 10 in his cape while acting as Cyclops’ lapdog, a Russian President who is barely alive but who’s inner circle pull off every trick in the book to convince enemies he is in the rudest of health while looking for any excuse to push “the button”, Ed Bishop from UFO, a topless newsreader and blissfully over the top performances all round and you have probably the best political satire ITV has ever produced.

The plot, set in the midst of the Cold War is certainly of its time, but as life continually threatens to imitate art its relevance comes and goes with every significant political change of power. With this, and plenty of simple laugh out loud farce, Whoops Apocalypse has enough to keep a modern day audience informed and entertained.

 

9. George and Mildred

If you were asked to devise a typically 1970s British sitcom then this is probably the basic premise you’d come up with: middle-class suburbia, hen-pecked husband and his domineering wife who wants to impress her well-to-do neighbours. This is exactly that but for me is the best of its kind, including similar setups from the BBC.

If you count Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads as a spin off then this 1976 effort, a product of Man About The House from three years earlier, is the second best sitcom spin off ever made, although pretty much every other one was terrible.

George Roper (Brian Murphy) is a middle-aged, balding, weedy spendthrift somehow married to Mildred (the beautiful Yootha Joyce) who keeps him firmly planted under her stiletto. Together they’ve just moved to Hampton Wick, and while she desperately tries to climb up the social ladder with Conservative neighbours Jeffrey and Ann Fourmile (Norman Eshley and Sheila Fearn) and into bed with George, it is she who is held back on both counts, largely due to her husband hating everything suburban and conjugal.

Jeffrey is forever surplanting his political views on young son Tristram (Nicholas Bond-Owen), and doesn’t like having George as a neighbour, fearing he will be a bad influence on his child. Meanwhile Mildred and Ann get along just fine while bemoaning their husbands’ sometimes childish feuds.

Not forgetting the “others” in the marriage, George’s goldfish Moby and Mildred’s Yorkshire Terrier Truffles in whom they each confide their despairing thoughts, offering them more affection and attention than each other.

Perhaps typically of the time for ITV sitcoms there are some jokes that make you cringe, but that’s what made Police Squad! so brilliant, and is how Tim Vine pays his bills.

 

8.  Love Thy Neighbour

Often and unfairly derided as a lazy racist sitcom, and the go-to show for clips to illustrate a laboured and unjustified point on Bank Holiday Channel Four list shows, the relationships in this 1972 Vince Powell scribed comedy are basically the same as in George and Mildred; two neighbouring couples, husbands arguing while the wives look on in disdain.

The twist here is that as well as political divides there’s the added element of race, as one of the couples, wait for it, is black.

Eddie (Jack Smethurst) and Joan Booth (Kate Williams) are a working class couple who live next door to Bill (Rudolph Walker) and Barbie Reynolds (Nina Baden-Semper). The two men work together but don’t get on, while their wives are the best of friends. Eddie regularly hurls racial insults at Bill who gives as good as he gets, but Eddie is clearly written to be ignorant and less educated, showing up his bigoted views as ill-informed. Sadly, critics – now and then – didn’t see this and although it perhaps lacks some of the intelligence and socio-political bite of Till Death Us Do Part, Love Thy Neighbour makes a good fist of demonstrating the ignorance of racist attitudes at the time.

 

7. George And The Dragon

Not quite at each other’s throats all of the time, George (Sid James) and Gabrielle Dragon (Peggy Mount) play chauffeur and housekeeper to the wonderfully vague and distant Colonel Maynard (John Le Mesurier). George is forever trying to smuggle a girl back to the house in the hope that she’ll replace Gabrielle who always seems to catch them just before the act.

I can forgive the “Dragon” contrivance as the chemistry between the three is clear to see, doing the sparkling scripts from Vince Powell and Harry Driver full justice. Though George And The Dragon, which started its four-series run in 1966, was written for Sid James (who left ATV for Thames with Powell and Driver), Peggy Mount is equally good if not better, her acid tongue and forceful presence cutting through.

There are great plots across all four series, the quality of writing and performing is consistently high, and it isn’t as simple as the two main protagonists battling with each other. They do often work together, usually to undo whatever mess one or other has gotten themselves into, and John Le Mesurier basically playing himself provides a subtle but important foil.

It is easy to see why the show was and remains so popular, even if often forgotten.

 

6. Vicious

Theatricals old queen Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi basically play themselves, in the guise
of Freddie and Stuart, a caustic and snobby gay couple joined in their contempt for each other, who pace around their sitting room exchanging beautifully crafted and sometimes brutal insults while Violet (Frances de la Tour) and Ash (Iwan Rheon) drop by.

Many critics panned the show, first shown in 2013, as old-fashioned, coarse and a throwback to the 1970s. And therein lie its strengths.

McKellen and Jacobi’s knighthoods come from decades of creating legendary roles for stage and screen, playing everything from supervillains to Shakespeare, which is why it is wonderful to hear McKellen’s classically-trained voice snap out punchlines like “Bitch, please.”

Violet stumbles from one hopeless relationship – usually a failed holiday or online romance which she thinks is destined for marriage – while trying to fulfil her extreme sexual appetite with Ash, a handsome you g man who’s moved next door. Violet’s personal life gives Freddie and Stuart another target for their barbs.

My only downer with Vicious is that Iwan Rheon can’t sustain a Wigan accent without trying to speak while forcing a laugh. Happily though he’s gorgeous, so that’s all right.

 

5. Curry And Chips

Having become disillusioned with the BBC after three year of writing Till Death Us Do Part, Johnny Speight created this for London Weekend in 1969, its first colour programme in any sense of the word.

Kevin O’Grady (a blacked-up Spike Milligan) is of Pakistani-Irish descent and gets a job as cleaner at Lillicrap Limited, a factory that makes cheap novelty toys often found in seaside gift shops. Immediately, there is antipathy towards him (he is given nicknamed “Paki-Paddy”) even from the only other black face around, played by Kenny Lynch. To add to their prejudice, O’Grady is also half-Irish. Standing up for him is Arthur Blenkinsop (Eric Sykes) the foreman, who takes him to stay at Mrs Bartok’s (Fanny Carby) lodging house.

The humour is largely at the expense of the racists themselves, Norman (Norman Rossington) and Young Dick (a pre-Coronation Street Geoffrey Hughes), who while bemoaning the new addition who is keen to work hard, show themselves up to be lazy in both work and ignorance.

The ITA – seemingly as stupid as the people Speight sought to satirise – deemed the series racist and ordered LWT to pull the plug after just one series.

 

4. Oh No It’s Selwyn Froggitt

Set in the fictional Yorkshire town of Scarsdale, this 1976 show was centred on the bungling exploits of Selwyn Froggitt (Bill Maynard) a burly, balding, good-natured council labourer with intellectual pretetsions evidenced by his rolled up copy of the Times Literary Supplement, dug holes – sometimes for himself – while having a child-like enthusiasm to improve his life and that of everyone around him.

Froggitt was on the committee of the Scarsdales Working Mens’ Club where as concert secretary he was blissfully inept at arranging the entertainment. In fact, he was spectacularly incompetent at everything he turned his hand to, being equally inept at his day job (digging holes and filling them in) and home DIY, much to the annoyance of his Mum “I wish you wouldn’t open that cupboard Selwyn, things fall out!” (Megs Jenkins).

He was joined at the club bar by fellow committee members Scouse Jack (Bill Dean), Harry (Harold Goodwin) and excitable, go-to stereotypical Welshman Clive (Richard Davies). Raymond the barman (Ray Mort) enjoyed answering the club telephone with a number of deliciously fanciful addresses.

The show included lashings of slapstick alongside writer Alan Plater’s typical northern humour, and the later “Selwyn”-series aside, was faultless, loveable and very, very funny.

 

3. Take A Letter Mr Jones

Love this. While John Inman was busy starting in the wonderful Are You Being Served? He found time to jump ship – twice – to make two different sitcoms for ITV. This was the second and best of those efforts, made by Southern in 1981, where he plays Graham Jones, a “computer and a wife” to Joan Warner (Rula Lenska), a divorced, single mother, as well as a “busy top female executive” (as she frequently refers to herself) who is struggling to keep a balance between her professional life and her personal one. At home she has a six year old daughter called Lucy (who for some reason always seems on the verge of breaking out into hysterics) and an over-excitable Italian maid Maria (Miriam Margolyes).

Other secretaries in the 8-Star office provide excellent comedy, the dithering Daisy (Christine Ozanne), the young Scouse girl who seems to have slept her way into her job Brenda (Gina Maher) and the tall, frigid Ruth (Joan Blackham) who with Inman shares some of the show’s best banter.

As well as sexual politics there’s a good helping of slapstick, and were it not for Southern’s franchise coming to a bitter end just weeks after the end of the series I’m sure more would have been made.

A charming little sitcom, underrated, under-appreciated, but for me up there with the best.

 

2. Rising Damp

This sitcom from Yorkshire Television first shown in 1974 saw Leonard Rossiter and Richard Beckinsale work together for the second time – both appeared in Johnny Speight’s LWT play “If There Weren’t Any Blacks You’d Have To Invent Them”.

Race was a strong theme in this, too, as Rossiter played Rupert Rigsby, a sexually frustrated, penny pinching, bigoted, ignorant and meddlesome landlord to Alan (Beckinsale), Ruth (France de la Tour) and Philip (Don Warrington).

Though Rossiter’s performance was powerful and always immaculate, he was aided considerably by the ensemble cast. Frances de la Tour is a wonderful mixture of vulnerability and frustrated longing while Richard Beckinsale shone as the immature medical student Alan, and Don Warrington brought a touch of class as “son of a chief ” Philip, who as well as being as recipient of Miss Jones frustrated longings constantly turned Rigsby’s prejudice back on him, always having the last laugh, something that critics who claim Rising Damp was racist often conveniently forget.

De la Tour disappeared for the third series and the standard slipped a little – proving that for a sitcom to be consistently good it needs a strong cast as well as a strong script, and although some of the plots were a touch threadbare later on, it is still fondly remembered – and many see this as ITV’s best. But I believe there’s one sitcom that’s even better…

 

1. Brass

Ah the glorious Brass, which over the course of two series from 1983 (we’ll forget the third which aired six years later on Channel Four which, to be honest, was poor) told the story of the feuding families of the Northern mining village of Utterly.

Self-made man and owner of the village mine, mill and munitions factory, Bradley (Timothy West) is the head of the Hardacre clan, which comprises his three sons, Bentley (deceased), ruthless Austin who is desperate to emulate his tyrant father (Robert Reynolds) and gay Cambridge scholar Morris, who enjoys time with his “chums” and teddy bear Hesketh (James Saxon) – all named after cars, see? – as well as two daughters, Charlotte (passionate about doing good works and, says her father, “innocent to the point of simplicity”) and Isabel, whose bedpost is more notch than wood. Then there’s his wife, Lady Patience (Caroline Blakiston), a wheelchair-user ever since an accident with a tambourine.

On the other side of the village live the Fairchilds. George (Geoffrey Hinsliff) its nominal head, worships the ground his employer Bradley treads him into, while his ample-bosomed wife Agnes (Barbara Ewing), proud Union firebrand who so irons her clothes before washing them and glues peas into pods “how else do you think they get there?” and rails with fury at all life throws at her. They have two sons. One is hardworking Jack (Shaun Scott) who has inherited his mother’s socialist leanings but is periodically diverted from bringing down capitalism by his secret and exhausting life as Isabel’s sex-monkey. (“I love him hopelessly! Passionately! Recklessly! Frequently!”) The other is poetry-writing Matt (Gary Cady), who is determined, once he has made the final payments on the family pencil, to go to Cambridge despite his love for Charlotte which he expressed in frankly rubbish poetry (“Thou are more lovely and more interesting, Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May but that’s quite another thing”) and his good job – “a job wi’ a stool!” – at the mine works.

Every period drama of the time was parodied blissfully by writers John Stevenson and Julian Roach – Hard Times, When The Boat Comes In, Brideshead Revisited – supplemented by plenty of visual gags (from Bradley’s favourite dish of lobster and chips to Lady Patience delicately spooning her gin and tonic hors d’oeuvre into her mouth before falling gracefully face-first into her bowl). Add to all of that lashings of innuendo – “Oh Matt,” sobs Charlotte as he bids her farewell, “I shall always wonder how many poems the lead in your pencil would have been good for!” – and the whole thing is essentially beautifully crafted daftness with actors and writers all seeing just how far out they can go and still bring everything safely back.

It is a joy. It is, quite simply, the best sitcom ITV has ever made.

Not so straight but narrow

As society embraces gay marriage and coming out is in, to today’s generation seeing gay men on television is as normal as posting your bank details and a naked selfie on what the BBC innocently yet laughingly calls “social media”. #ridiculousisntit

How gay men are portrayed on our screens today varies wildly. In recent years two of our most popular and enduring sitcoms, My Family and Benidorm, have featured prominent gay male characters. In the former Michael Harper (played by Gabriel Thomson) is an intelligent teenager who looks and sounds exactly as one might expect a teenaged boy to do, while in the latter Kenneth Du Beke (Tony Maudsley) is a flamboyantly dressed, overweight, camp manager of a hairdressing salon). Both are fantastically different and readily accepted by the audience in their millions without prejudice. But did the portrayal of gay characters in the 1970s stick to a single stereotype? Were gay characters and performers received as well then as they are now? And was the way they were depicted a fair reflection of their sexuality, or just a grotesque misrepresentation?

Let’s cruise the woods of poorly-researched opinion and lazy journalism, put these hypocrisies to bed and pound them till they bleed, then maybe, as is often the way with these things, they’ll be gone in the morning.

First of all we’ll go off topic, back to 1969 and Doctor In The House, adapted from Richard Gordon’s “Doctor” books with scripts from Pythons John Cleese and Graham Chapman, Goodies Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie, and Barry Cryer. Duncan Waring (played by Robin Nedwell), a twenty-something who wore flash suits (though his trousers spent a large part of the series around his ankles) and enjoyed women and alcohol to excess. Five years on and Eric Chappell’s Rising Damp hit our screens which featured, amongst others, Alan Moore (played by the superb Richard Beckinsale), a left wing, long haired twenty-something who wore tight jeans, a dark green jumper and was occasionally teased by landlord Rigsby (the formidable Leonard Rossiter) for his perceived femininity and awkwardness around women. The characters of Waring and Moore were complete opposites in almost every respect, except they had one thing in common: they were medical students. (Actually the actors themselves had more in common – they both started in Granada’s The Lovers and both died tragically young of heart attacks). Nobody could convincingly argue that either of the characters were typical of medical students, no more so than all Muslims are fanatical terrorists, or all gay men fist Chancellors of the Exchequer at awards ceremonies.

Sticking with Rising Damp, the 1977 Episode titled “Stage Struck” featured Hilary (Peter Bowles), a flouncing, camp actor and friend of Ruth (Frances de la Tour) who has written a play which he wants her to perform with Alan. Rigsby, who has always tried and failed to become intimate with Ruth is worried the play will give Alan the opportunity to succeed. Rigsby tells Alan “He’s one of them!” who promptly abandons any acting ambitions. Hilary, knowing what Rigsby has done, asks him to step in. They share a sofa, Hilary moves in closer and closer before beginning to make a pass at Rigsby who leaps up telling Hilary “it’s no good” before Hilary assumes the lead. He seduces Ruth “Do you think we could do that again?” and it is obvious that he is not gay. Although the writer played on a common stereotype and perhaps the ignorance of part of the audience through the use of a caricature, he was then able to question their preconceptions of someone who was seemingly a flamboyant homosexual by revealing him to be a flirtatious heterosexual.

Another good example of how a certain “type” of person is portrayed comes from can be found in the 1977 Christmas Special episode of The Good Life. Titled “Silly, But It’s Fun”, in spite of precision planning the Christmas fayre isn’t delivered to middle-class Margot and Jerry Leadbetter (Penelope Keith and Paul Eddington) and so they pop round to their neighbours, Tom and Barbara Good (Richard Briers and Felicity Kendal), for some home grown pea pod burgundy and party games. After Margot’s excellent “This is the Daily Mirror” scene Jerry and Barbara find themselves together, on the sofa the worse for wear. Some very mild flirting ensues, but it is all very well written, and the audience clearly understand that they are drunk without their needing to be dressed in soiled, torn clothing, or be seen guzzling a three litre bottle of White Lightning on a park bench asking for the price of a cup of tea.

It is therefore important to establish the difference between a stereotype and a caricature. Those who do not know or care to acknowledge that there are clear distinctions between the two are perhaps as lazy as the stereotypes they seek to condemn.

Stereotypes are generalisations about a group of people which can be affectionate, benign or disingenuous in nature. There isn’t really such a thing as a typical medical student or Muslim or actor or drunk, yet there is undoubtedly an unhealthy obsession with the notion that in the 1970s there was a typical homosexual, and that this was stereotyped in an offensive way.

Gay men in particular are stereotyped as flamboyantly dressed and effeminate not because all gays are like that, or not because no straight men are (as Peter Bowles’ Hilary showed) but because some gay men exhibit these traits the audience is able to recognise what is being caricatured.

Possibly the two of the most well known examples of this common stereotype both in terms of popularity at the time, and how often they appear in the Top 100 Programmes People Were Too Young To Remember But Somehow Still Found Offensive featuring D-listers peddling witless arse gravy with all the authority of a wilting dandelion, were Mr Humphries in Are You Being Served?, played by John Inman, and Larry Grayson (Shut That Door, The Generation Game).

The former, a salesman in the menswear section of a slightly dreary department store, was never explicitly stated to be gay. Indeed, producer and co-writer David Croft did say that the character “was never written as a homosexual” (although conversely after the pilot episode was shown in 1972, the BBC’s Head of Light Entertainment, Bill Cotton, reportedly said: “We’ll take the series but we don’t want the poof.”) It does, however, feature one of my favourite ever scenes in sitcom, between Mr Humphries and Head of the Ladies Department, Mrs Slocombe (Mollie Sugden) while in Department Manager Mr Rumbold’s (Nicholas Smith) office along with the rest of the department, all bent over leaning towards Rumbold as he imparts some top secret information:

Mrs Slocombe: “If I’m stood standing here like this for much longer I’ll have to see an osteopath.”

Mr Humphries: “Don’t worry Mrs Slocombe. It gets easier with practice.”

Russell T Davies, writer of Queer As Folk, said of Mr Humphries: “I think he’s fun. I think he’s funny. And don’t tell me that gay men like that don’t exist. They absolutely do… Mr Humphries is absolutely a gay man.” But it didn’t seem to offend the audience, who tuned in in their tens of millions. Indeed, in 1976 readers of TV Times magazine voted Inman the “Funniest Man on Television”, and at The Variety Club Awards in the same year he was voted BBC Television’s “Personality of the Year”.

After many cameo appearances on other shows in stage and screen Larry Grayson was given his own show by ATV in 1972, Shut That Door. Grayson would introduce each show by inviting the audience to “Make yourself at home for a gay evening.” Again, rather than alienate the audience they adored him. When he took over The Generation Game in 1978 millions of people watched him – more even than the legendary Bruce Forsyth.

Every stereotype is based on at least one truth, otherwise there would be no terms of reference. Some gay men are camp or effeminate, but not all. Equally some medical students are undoubtedly alcoholic womanisers, some Muslims wander furtively through busy cities carrying rucksacks full of explosives, some actors are fey and some drunks are untidy and occupy park benches downing cheap liquor. But not all. However, there are enough recognisable truths in the personas of Mr Humphries and Larry Grayson that it easily able to determine that the two are gay, based on the caricatures.

Yet novelist Philip Hensher, “one of the 100 most influential LGBT people in Britain,” writing in The Independent in 2010 – a newspaper whose circulation is collapsing faster than a knackered deck chair – said that “…the camp persona of Larry Grayson [is] directed at one particular audience: the audience which had never knowingly associated with a gay person.” Grayson was simply being himself, and it beggars belief that one homosexual can find another offensive simply because of his persona, not exactly a progressive attitude, and suggests that Hensher believes that Larry Grayson wasn’t entitled to perform, certainly as himself. And following Hensher’s logic to its ridiculous end either no gay people watched Larry Grayson, and given that, according to official historical figures, the average British person knows 5.5 gay men (I don’t know how these surveys work, but presumably the .5 is a particularly well-endowed regular glory hole acquaintance) it would seem that for most of my adult life (and a little bit before) I’ve too often made my selection without walking the full length of the counter.

He went on: “Stereotypes could be sustained in the 1970s because most people watching a sitcom or a drama were not at all likely to know what a gay person was like. Those camp representations – Mr Humphries, Larry Grayson – have long since been written off.”

A gay character shouldn’t be vilified because it’s portrayal conforms to a particular stereotype. A large proportion of comedy characters are based on observations of appearances, mannerisms and traits of others and it follows that anyone finding a character whose appearances, mannerisms and traits offensive is no different to finding those people offensive. How they are portrayed is merely a caricature, an exaggeration for comic effect of those appearances, mannerisms and traits which help us identify people. A stereotype is a lazy, narrow-minded perception that a single caricature is typical of the type of person being caricatured.

Indeed, Mr Humphries is effectively a caricature of the type of gay man Larry Grayson is, the only tangible difference being that Mr Humphries is stood at a Grace Brothers’ counter rather than the Generation Game conveyor belt. Therefore if you find the character of Mr Humphries with his effete deportment offensive then it follows you also find Larry Grayson himself offensive as he carries the same traits, and so who is carrying the prejudice?

What would Hensher have thought if Are You Being Served? writers Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft had taken a slightly different approach, perhaps with an opening scene where the camera pans across the department before revealing Mr Humphries barebacking Mr Lucas (Trevor Bannister) over the tie counter in much the same way as Stuart (Aidan Gillen) did to Nathan (Charlie Hunnam) did in Queer As Folk, before showing a customer what’s in his drawers. It would have been just another caricature, a different means to the same end, though possibly not as family friendly. What is the correct way for a gay man to be portrayed? Or a medical student? Or a Muslim? Or an actor? Or a drunk? Or maybe gay men shouldn’t be seen at all? Camp is in the great tradition of British humour, from the music hall through Danny La Rue and the Carry Ons, to Alans Cumming and Carr, Little Britain‘s Dafyyd (Matt Lucas) and Graham Norton, and uses a particular caricature for the comedic effect, whereas other might not be so suitable.

It is absolutely untrue to suggest that in the 1970s the portrayal of gay men was confined to a particular stereotype – there were many different flavours of gay men in 1970s sitcoms. In Porridge, the character of Lukewarm (Christopher Biggins) wasn’t excessively camp, dressed (obviously) in a prisoner’s uniform, had a long term partner (Trevor) and enjoyed knitting.

Rob and Michael (Jeremy Bulloch and Peter Denyer) were a gay couple in LWT’s Agony from 1979, and on the face of it their homosexuality was totally indeterminable. They would have their ups and downs as would any straight couple rather than being written as a pair of bitchy queens, always offering their shoulders for agony aunt Jane Lucas (Maureen Lipman) to cry on when she had her own problems, and were as unstereotypical as you could get. Incidentally Robert Gillespie appeared briefly as Mr Mince, a well-dressed, middle-aged married man, who happened to enjoy wearing women’s clothes.

Fast forward to supposedly more enlightened times and it is clear for all to see – except Philip Hensher – that it simply isn’t the case that “those camp representations have long since been written off.” For where we had Larry Grayson flouncing around with contestants and clay in the late 1970s, Julian Clary, the cutting edge mould-breaking latex police uniform wearing star of Channel Four’s Saturday Live, was doing exactly the same on the brilliant Sticky Moments, but hugely exaggerated.

And while the 1970s audience adored the camp, innuendo-laden Mr Humphries, more modern day viewers enjoyed the equally camp, innuendo-laden “Suits you, Sir” tailors Ken and Kenneth (Paul Whitehouse and Mark Williams) from The Fast Show.

Since Hensher has also written for The Mail on Sunday maybe he’d welcome probing the portrayal of gay Nazi officers (see what he’s made me do?), from the limp-wristed Lieutenant Grüber (Guy Siner, and that’s for the purposes of alliteration not offence, so that’s ok, got it?) in ‘Allo ‘Allo, to Horne and Corden‘s own Nazi nancy (that’s fine too) which even The Daily Telegraph‘s Neil Midgley defended, whilst not particularly liking it which, since the series tanked, is fair enough.

Andrew Pierce, broadcaster and columnist (Translation: someone who not only talks nonsense on television and radio, they put it into print, too) writing in the Daily Mail (where else?): “By far the greatest offenders in all this are our most prominent gay TV presenters and entertainers, who allow themselves to be portrayed as ridiculous camp stereotypes by executives who revel in the same hackneyed rubbish.”

“It’s astonishing and offensive that, in a country which has made such remarkable and commendable strides forward in same-sex equality, TV producers still think that if a gay entertainer is not camp, lisping, effeminate and bitchy then they can’t be funny or interesting or popular.”

There is a delicious irony here. Whilst Pierce can take some credit for at least accepting that such caricatures aren’t confined to the 1970s, he spends the entire article bitching so much like a hideous old queen he would have been nailed on for the part of Freddie in Vicious were it not for his having all the charm and talent of an enema. His blinkered assertion simply reinforces the myth of the one-dimensional broadcast homosexual, taking two very uncommendable steps back in the process. He went on to single out Graham Norton as being the chief protagonist, who I and millions of others see as both interesting and popular rather than ridiculous, as viewing figures of his Friday night chat shows. But once again the ignorance shines through. Maybe Pierce has never seen QI, presented by Stephen Fry, not camp, lisping, effeminate or bitchy. Or maybe he’s blissfully unaware that Evan Davis is the presenter of Dragon’s Den or Newsnight.

Hang on a minute. In another piece for the Daily Mail in July 2014 he wrote: “I’m delighted Evan Davis is to be the new face of BBC2’s Newsnight in succession to Jeremy Paxman. Now that he’s leaving Radio 4’s Today programme, I can start listening to it again.” Maybe Pierce simply wants to be the only gay in the village and in doing so, just like Little Britain‘s Dafyyd, he comes across as slightly nasty and insecure.

People now more than ever readily choose to take offence in what has become a cultural version of ambulance chasing. Hensher, Pierce and others, frustrated homosexuals, middle-market media killjoys, envious of anyone having fun, whose only experience of having something inserted into their anuses was when they stuck their own heads up there only to forget to take them out again, and whose gag reflexes have suffered at the thrust of little other than their own verbal diarrhoea. And then there’s the vociferously straight and repressed, occasionally and surreptitiously getting tossed off by a teenager in a train station for a tenner, yet so narrow-minded that trying to form an educated opinion would likely cause an aneurism.

Between them they may be unwittingly establishing their own stereotype, that of the hypocritical, faux-offended, ill-informed cultural commentator, who is always on those list shows, always writing in the laughably termed “quality newspapers”, and always contributing very little, except to an already baseless prejudice. Thankfully, however, not all who are granted the good fortune and responsibility of putting themselves and their thoughts in front of the masses are the same.

And neither are all gay men, whether caricatures or personalities, on or off our screens.