Barry Gordon: It’s beyond a joke

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Oo-er, missus – the BBC seems to have its knickers in a right twist. Yes, the old dear has just gone and published a new editorial guideline – Section 5.4.36 for all you anoraks – stating that any “discussion and portrayal of sexual behaviour” BBC television before the 9pm watershed must be editorially justified “when children are likely to be in our audience” as well as “appropriate to the likely audience and inexplicit”.

We all know Auntie can be a trifle prim and proper, but most of the nation aged 30 and over were raised on the likes of Benny Hill, The Two Ronnies, Are You Being Served? and Kenny Everett – all mainstream, prime-time programmes fondly loved for their smutty innuendo, double entendres and images of scantily clad women.

True, not all of these shows were the most ingenious, but they’re certainly some of the more memorable. And given how sanitised early evening telly has become over the past 20 years or so, those old TV episodes now look strangely fresh, as if trapped in some kind of time-warp where casual sexism, low-brow humour and fumbling under the duvet is considered a work of televised art.

For instance: how many of us could ever keep a straight face every time Benny Hill got chased around a park by a bevy of busty babes?

Or whenever Blakey from On The Buses got embarrassed by a pair of frilly panties “found” in his possession?

And let’s not forget the saucy Carry On films which often ran on a Sunday afternoon. Most of them were probably written in the back of a transit van; nevertheless, all that ogling, fondling, and undoing of bras was part of the appeal. It was funny. No violence – all innocent, harmless amusement. But sexy? Well, given the state of fashion and styles in the 70s and 80s, there was probably more chance of being turned on by watching Margaret Thatcher give a speech at a Tory Party conference.

Indeed, it can be argued that it’s because of Thatcher’s influence and legacy – her decision to abolish the Eady Levy tax in 1979 effectively killed off the British Sex Comedy as a film genre – that the BBC, those esteemed bastions of good taste and healthy morals, have drawn up their prudish proposals.

They think they’re protecting viewers from their own insecurities, when in fact they’re nothing but a bunch of over-sensitive, over- reactionary wet blankets determined to eradicate another great, British tradition: sauce.

So, all begs the question: have we really become so po-faced with innocuous titillation?

Well, before TV, in the 1930s, 16 million saucy postcards were sold each year. Today, some people campaign to ensure no-one appears on a TV guide wearing a bikini.

Not so long ago, entire families would settle down together in front of the tube to watch The Two Ronnies go on about a secretary who refused to kiss her boss under the mistletoe because she didn’t like where he was wearing it. Even granny and grandson would laugh at Benny Hill as he hid under the bed from some buxom housewife’s irate husband.

Closer to home, I recall seeing Hector Nicol on BBC 2 before 9pm in the mid-1980s talking about his wife, who had bought him a gravestone. It read: “Here lies my husband, stiff at last.” Then there’s Rikki Fulton’s Scotch & Wry sketch where he pops a painkiller into his sleeping wife’s mouth so that she’d have no excuse for a sore head when he woke her up asking for sex. All classic stuff.

Even the female actors themselves had no problem showing off what little nudity they were asked to reveal.

Joanna Lumley, who went topless for Games That Lovers Play, said: “You had to do it. We just wobbled out of our clothes.”

The fact remains, though. If you want to see anyone wearing a G-string, pinching someone’s bum, or giving it the “nudge nudge wink wink’” on the Beeb then you can guarantee it will be after 9pm, and not a minute sooner.