Ben Elton on Blackadder, The Young Ones and political correctness
Acclaimed British comedian and writer Ben Elton says his shows like Blackadder and The Young Ones would not work today because of a massive shift in the way people view the world.
Gone are the days when people would gather in front of the TV to watch a sitcom based around national identity, he said.
Instead the man who made a screeching London punk and a scheming manservant part of the ’80s mainstream said we had found ourselves in a “watershed moment”.
“Clearly with something like Blackadder, it really entered the culture, and you don’t get many opportunities to do that,” Elton said this week.
“I don’t think it will ever happen again either, because clearly the focus of audiences has completely changed.
“You cannot have a national focus anymore, so I think the days when everyone knew about … Blackadder are gone.”
The way we view ourselves appears to be something Elton has given much thought to of late.
He has just released his 16th novel, Identity Crisis, which follows an old-school detective thrown into a world of sex, politics and identity groups that he struggles to comprehend.
“Why are we all so hostile? So quick to take offence? Truly we are living in the age of outrage,” the book’s blurb asserts.
It has prompted some to ask whether Elton has joined the chorus of those who say the world has become too politically correct.
He stressed this was far from the case.
“This keeps coming up and I’m fighting a losing battle to avoid hashtag ‘Ben rails against political correctness’,” he said.
“I don’t at all. Most political correctness I strongly approve of.
“Back in the ’80s, I was the king of PC and doing routines about tampon poverty and even a bit of gender fluidity.”
Elton co-wrote Blackadder and The Young Ones — among other British sitcoms — which sit alongside an illustrious list of UK classics.
Earlier this month the Radio Times magazine ranked the top 20 British sitcoms of all time, as judged by a panel of television experts, with Elton’s work featuring prominently.
- Fawlty Towers
- Father Ted
- I’m Alan Partridge
- Dad’s Army
- Only Fools and Horses
- The Royle Family
- Absolutely Fabulous
- The Thick of It
- The Office
- Peep Show
- The Vicar of Dibley
- The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin
- The Young Ones
- Gavin & Stacey
- The Good Life
- Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?
Elton said The Young Ones in particular was a “crazy show” to be part of, and Vyvyan’s arrival through the kitchen wall was one his favourite moments.
“I was very proud of that — one of the great entrances in sitcom,” he said.
Yet, Elton said things had changed since The Young Ones shocked the sensibilities of 1980s England.
“We are in a real watershed moment in cultural history,” he said.
“We’re still talking about national boundaries, Donald Trump is building a wall around America and Britain is breaking up as we speak.
“And yet actually the communities people seem to really care about is not the national community anymore, not the geographical community, not their street, not their school, not their town, but it’s their identity community.
“It’s what is their sexuality, what’s their gender, what’s their race.
“And those communities are virtual, they’re online, and that changes human discourse completely.”
As Elton prepares for his first stand-up comedy tour in more than a decade, he fears the world has passed him by just a bit.
Or perhaps, Elton wonders, is he is the very thing the world needs?
“The ideas of the enlightenment — for 300 years the primacy of evidence and the rejection of superstition and rejection of blind faith — suddenly all that has gone in the 15 years I have been off the road,” he said.
“I wonder if it is my fault? I think probably the world needs me and that’s why I’m doing it again.”