Short answer – Because it’s TOO BLACK!
In the wake of Ali G, Black identity & culture seems to have been replaced by something called “Urban”. As such, Black music has become “Urban music” and Black cultural expressions down to its speech patterns, are appropriated – used in the promotion of a new sub-culture decidedly detached from an explicit Black identity. The new “Urban dramas” do more to glorify stereotypes than address issues, and Black audiences are encouraged to celebrate simply having Black faces on TV, whatever they may represent.
The distinct Black identity of The Real McCoy era seems to threaten the “Urban” environment that has been created by mass media moguls and therefore serves a different agenda. It would be difficult to promote overblown depictions seen in shows like “Phone Shop”, while more authentic offerings are on the table. The status quo allows the entertainment industry to continue to use Black culture for its own profit, with little or no accountability.
But being aware that such a comment may be considered the random ramblings of a Pro-Black journalist, allow me to state openly what many among us are thinking – and break it down.
The Real McCoy hit our television screens in 1991. Britain was a nation still recovering from a decade of riots, demonstrations and other civil disobedience against racial injustice. At a time when the phrase “Black People on the telly” still sent excitement through many Black homes, TV representation was among the many concerns facing the Black community.
The late 80’s saw an increase in Black comedy shows on terrestrial TV, and the BBC was the last to follow suit with The Real McCoy. Tapping into established hotbeds for Black talent (such as Hackney Empires 291 Club) The Real McCoy brought together an all-star cast of writers & performers. The result was a unique comedy sketch show, the appeal of which went well beyond mere humour.
From its inception, the laughs & jokes were laced with social commentary and cultural references relating to a unique Black experience. In early series, dynamic duo Curtis Walker – then known as the “Conscious Brother of comedy” and Ishmael Reed transformed audience favorites Dyam Fool Man & Ediat Bwoy into Conscious Youth & Sensible Somebody. Their mission: to use “conscious lyrics” in counteracting the “slackness” permeating Black Music by the lyrical monster known as “Raggastein”.
Felix Dexter had a knack for creating characters from accurate personalities within the Black community. From Nathaniel, the student and Bablo the old West Indian Pan-Afrikanist to Douglas the Roots & Culture lawyer, all Felix’s characters were not only comedic genius but culturally affirming. For example – as Bablo in explaining why he decided to “leave from Babylon” pondered:
“Something always troubling I an I. You know when the Germans were doing they wickedness to the Jews it took them 4 years to stop it…. When they were doing their wickedness to us in slavery days it took then 400 YEARS. WHAT WERE THEM EXTRA 395 YEARS FOR?”
One of the most controversial offerings was written by legendary stand up comedian Leo Muhammad. Affectionately known as “Deportee” this sketch features “Confederation Of Original Man Immigration Control Service” aka “C.O.M.I.C.S” chasing a member of the BNP out of England for not being one of the original inhabitants – who were Black. Considering that immigration is always a hot issue in Britain, it is not hard to see that such a sketch, albeit comedic, would be more than a little uncomfortable for a lot more than BNP members.
Who can forget Llewella Gideon’s portrayal of Miss Hortense Pretentious, the Black MP running as a Conservative Party candidate. In a fantastic display of tongue in cheek wit, Miss Pretentious extolled the virtues of becoming more British, letting go of Black culture in the process.
The Real McCoy seems to have come at a time where there seemed to be much more definition of what it meant to be Black. This self-determined cohesion meant performers naturally related their art to their identity and the social issues that came from this. The impact was felt not only in the Black community but among British society in general.
As UK Black comedy shows go, only Desmond’s compares in popularity. Though unquestionably high-quality comedy, Desmond’s is far less socio-political and has had far less problems being re-run by various networks. Sanjeev Bhaskar and Meera Syal, the two long-standing Asian members of The Real McCoy cast went on to star in “Goodness Gracious Me”, which also garnered mass popularity and was re-run by the BBC for years following its cancellation in 1998.
These examples give light as to why initiatives such as The Voice Newspapers very successful “Bring Back The Real McCoy Campaign” are being overlooked and ignored. What The Voice’s campaign proves is that there are no justifiable reasons for the Beeb not to re-run or releasing The Real McCoy on DVD, as all indicators suggest it would be a hit. And while half-baked excuses continue to come from an institution paid for by its citizens, it appears that independent Black Artists & Institutions can learn a valuable lesson by investing in the ownership & control over their endeavors.
Whatever the case, The Real McCoy stands as an undeniable achievement in Black television. Honour and respect to the cast and crew for providing a shining example for a new generation of Black performers. This is their legacy and one way or another, let’s make them aware of it.