I’m going to go straight into this one and do the background/intro afterwards. You’ll note the use of terrible language but it’s nothing in comparison to the TV show where the characters spoke in streams of insult.
The Pakistani man who left Pakistan to get away from the wogs but when he came to England realized there were too many wogs here as well for his taste making it less likely for people to accept him as Irish. Kev is one of those darkly skinned challenged people who wish they were White or fully White in his case, not just in skin colour as many crave but actual Caucasian-ness and sadly for him his half Irish heritage doesn’t show through i.e. no one believes him. But it stills gives the people around him and strangers he comes across ammunition for double the ‘fun’ so he becomes known as ‘PakiPaddy’ his main nickname alongside ‘Sambo’, ‘Wog’, ‘Koon’, ‘Black’, ‘Gangadin’ etc and when people question his Irish background it’s always “if he’s a Mick then…”, unfortunately Kev doesn’t know much about Irish culture so they tend to get the better of him.
Kev is as patriotic as they come; pro-monarchy, pro-working hard and efficiently, wanting to get Britain ‘back on her feet’ to prosperity but that doesn’t win him any favour either, actually it does the complete opposite. Occasionally it leads to some funny blips like him being told by his colleagues not to bring the monarchy into an argument for cultural diversity and he reminds them that Philip is Greek to which they stare blankly.
He just can’t understand why people don’t like him, he’s Irish for crying out loud not like those wogs on the street and he’s not Black and please people Pakistan is not in India (anymore) it’s in Pakistan. He speaks the queen’s English, is always polite to people and of course it makes sense that the Muslim man in news was claiming welfare for five wives, five wives are impossible to pay for but it makes perfect sense to marry as many as you want even if it’s not legal here.
Oh and btw Kevin O’Grady is played by a ‘Blacked up’ Spike Milligan (Indian born and educated, English/Irish ethnicity, Irish nationality), but remember not to call him ‘Black’ or anything Black related he is NOT Black, he is Irish!
The Token Black Guy – Who is actually Black
The factory where Kevin works already has its quota of coloureds, their token Black guy who they cannot tell to go back where he comes from thank you very much because he was born here mate, he is English and not a bloody foreigner.
To assert his native status he’s also against Kevin but is in the middle since he’s not fully accepted by the rest of the employees yet he’s not totally an outsider. For them he’s a fair weather member of the group, they’re against him on principle but they get on the rest of the time and at least he’s not like Kevin. It’s better to be Black than a Paki. Sidenote – Sadly enough these ethos are still alive and kicking from born or naturalized citizens towards ‘freshies’ and I’ve seen one group think one prejudice is better than another e.g. a couple of Black men didn’t want to pay their bus fare and got verbally abusive to the Western/Southern Asian bus driver who said “How would you like it if I called you Black, if people called you Black (in a derogative way) you wouldn’t like it” – awkwardly stated because you know ‘nigger’ would have highlighted the point better and the fare evaders got that with one retorting “Hey I’m Black, I’m a nigger and proud, at least I’m not a PAKI! (pointing and laughing as they left)”.
Oh divide and conquer, how people keep falling for it.
The Foreman aka The Apologist and The Landlady
This character (played by Eric Sykes) is like the voice of reason and fair play, he stands between the tension and the audience quickly sees that it’s not all racial, a lot of it is class based so he not only has to keep things relatively peaceable between employees but between their Union and the company Governor. He seems an affable guy just trying to get on with everybody.
Now he’s all for PakiPaddy, as long as they don’t get any more coming through the Labour Exchange, and he knows how difficult it must be but at the same time we obviously can’t integrate him fully because he’s, you know, different. Still he does his best and asks his landlady to let Kevin stay with them, at first she puts up the necessary front – what will the neighbours say, of course there’ll be no special treatment and he must pay the ‘Coloured Rate’, although she quickly starts adding curry powder to his food to make him feel more at home and it turns out has quite a liking for heavily tanned skin. She, the foreman and Kevin go down the pub together and get Kevin used to it as a part of normal everyday life but that sparks gossip from the other patrons “remember what she was like in the war, back then it was the Americans” and Kevin being warned to keep his hands off their women “but he wouldn’t want, not your Flossy” interrupts the foreman etc etc. Remember that it’s ok for White men to like a bit of tawny here and there but it’s not alright for coloureds to be with White women. Although skin shades aside it’s alright for all men to ‘show appreciation’ for women by leering, calling, invading personal space, groping etc it’s natural you know to want to ‘give them one’.
The Shop Steward and other Employees
The head honcho on the floor, the union mouthpiece aka the Shop Steward (underneath the Foreman) is the most vocal out of the anti-Kevin and anti-coloured brigade. He and his are all Labour all the way except when it comes to foreigners then they’re all for ‘Eunuch Powell’.
Kevin is giving everyone a bad name; he works too fast, too much and no he didn’t have a ticket to fix that fuse when the lights went out stopping everybody from working and he’s a snitch, how dare he talk out loud about those of us who spend too much time in the bathroom especially at the end of the day waiting for the finishing bell and he’s not union… Ugh now what is he doing, he’s doing what we said staying in the loo again, he hasn’t done his work/swept up, we’re not working in this mess. ‘Honestly you bend over backwards for these wogs, offer them the hand of friendship, take them to your bosom and what do they do? They take your jobs and your women (but not your Flossy)’.
It’s imperative to remember and emphasize that the darkies are ‘not one of us’ civilised people instead of their former barbaric, ignorant, primitive selves they are ‘more like us now’ but ‘not one of us’ because obviously we are superior even the lowest, stinkiest ones of us (for which the pong of their job hangs around) that we pick on are not allowed to be called ‘smelly’ by a wog, the audacity.
Oh look he just won the football pools! Oh that’s bloody typical, the foreigners always win! – Funnily enough the competition win divides the anti-Kevin group and the Shop Steward turns around and acts like his lips are surgically attached to Kevin’s buttocks. On top of that if anyone is mean to Kevin, he himself will report them to the Race Relations Board!
Was the Show Worth Watching?
The show was a Spike Milligan/Johnny Speight collaboration and since I’m a fan of parody, spoof and satire I wasn’t adverse to seeing what all the fuss was about. It’s helpful to make fun of ourselves stepping back and getting perspective but there was uproar when this show aired in 1969 and hence hastily cancelled.
I initially thought it had the worst and silliest opening theme I’d ever heard so the rest of the content would probably be just as silly and maybe slapstick (seriously, that theme song should have only been used for the first episode). At first I found it funny, snorted a bit at the irony, liked recognizing actors such as a younger Geoffrey Hughes (Onslow from Keeping Up Appearances) and thought it fitting that the factory they work in is called LilliCrap Ltd specializing in joke shop/Halloween wares but the shtick got old pretty quickly.
The characters are all a bit goon-ish, hammy and/or shouty, there’s little character development and it’s very much like they’re stage rather than screen acting; the one dimensional style is better for a skit show. I can see why the acting was over the top, the characters and their attitudes are over the top, hypocritical and frustrated but it was just too much, all aggro or lecherous all the time. It reminded me somewhat of Sanford and Son (1972-1977) (the Black American version of the BBC’s ”’Steptoe and Son – 1962-1974) in which the son was just too mean to the father and had to be toned down early on to make the show more likable.
The everyday culture clash content Milligan and Speight were working with provided ample material for jokes and being thought provoking but perhaps they captured the hostility a bit too well. I don’t often watch something serious (that isn’t a documentary or news) out of choice for entertainment, I just end up watching them and am duly moved however when I’m choosing entertainment I do prefer it to be lighter, to have some levity – life is stressful enough by default I don’t like drama and prefer to relax if possible. Therefore I guess my taste in humour balances on the side of the sardonic over the sarcastic as I don’t see sarcasm as the highest form of wit. Contemptuous irony (sarcasm) is necessary but it’s hard to take in big let alone constant doses but then the sardonic (mockingly derisive) can be harder to understand and misinterpreted… Either way I found Curry and Chips too boorish.
I also thought that it focused too much on working class bigotry, yes as we can still see in current times it’s easy to get people stirred up and frothing at the mouth especially at the poor and immigrants, people are territorial and it’s easy to say it’s out of ignorance. It is partially ignorance but we know that racism, sexism, colourism etc is saturated throughout the classes and levels and of education. There are standout scenes though for example when even the company Governor and his ilk try to court Kevin after they thought he won the football pools in that form of convenient elitism i.e. capitalism where if there’s something to be fleeced/gained one can’t be too tolerant of the little/other fella.
CONCLUSION AND COMPARISONS
The reason I’ve given this a 3/5 is because even though it gets its point across and in my opinion isn’t taking the proverbial out of people for the sake/fun of it, it’s not in Milligan’s, Sykes’ or Speight’s best works and is just tacky and outdated for the modern viewer (except for those still in the fray of the noisier parts of non-city pub culture). From the people I’ve known who remember the era and from reviews I’ve read the consensus is that it was representative of the time so in that sense I don’t see any reason why the show would need to make the people in it look better but at the same time I disagree with Independent Television Authority’s decision to withdraw the show based on it being controversial, yes it was and that was the point. It highlighted multiple normalized prejudices and didn’t promote them but perhaps holding a mirror up like that was just too embarrassing especially since its reality was so crass.
There were much better shows doing the same thing around the same time and afterwards such as:
Til Death Do Us Part (1965 to 1975) – Also written by Johnny Speight, and which probably inspired the more wide ranging issue based US show All in the Family (1971-1979) both series’ having a bigoted, working class father, long suffering wife, nice daughter and socialist son-in-laws.
Love Thy Neighbour (1972-1976) – similarly to the above covering the friction between White and Black neighbours.
And later, one of my favourite shows in general – US made:
The Jeffersons (1975-1985) – had something all the above shows didn’t; character flair and finesse in production. It was a spin-off from All in the Family featuring the Black neighbours who in ‘Movin on Up’ (the theme song) style made a success out of a bad situation, climbed the social ladder into a high rise apartment and the high life BUT was still a social issue show. The father favouring Black people (especially ‘brothers’ over ‘sisters’) being openly racist to Whites and whilst trying to stay in the good books with his old friends wanting to climb even higher into the graces of his Jewish banker landlord. That said, he’s always made to see the error of his ways by his family and friends and manages to twist things to his advantage. The show is laugh out loud funny, has a lot of likable characters, the dialogue sharp and on the whole still very watchable to today’s standards.