BBC defends 'racist' Little Britain sketch with David Walliams

BBC defends ‘racist’ Little Britain sketch where David Walliams says Asian character ‘smells of soy sauce’: Corporation claims scene is intended to ‘expose and ridicule outdated prejudices that still exist in parts of UK society’

  • David Walliams described an Asian student as ‘the ching-chong China man’
  • A respondent – who is a father – said he’d be ‘horrified’ if his daughter mimicked it

The BBC has defended an ‘explicitly racist’ Little Britain sketch which is still available to view on iPlayer where David Walliams describes an Asian character as ‘smelling of soy source’ and ‘the ching-chong China man’.

The corporation claims the sketch was ‘intended to expose and ridicule some of the outdated prejudices and racism that still exist in parts of British society’ after it was revealed viewers felt the content was inappropriate in new research by Ofcom.

The sketch, originally broadcast in 2002, shows David Walliams as university employee Linda Flint describing an Asian student, Kenneth Lao, over the phone to her manager.

He is described as having ‘yellowish skin, slight smell of soy sauce … the ching-chong China man.’ The scene is accompanied by a laugh track.

The clip was one of a series of videos shown to participants in a study which examined viewers’ attitudes towards live television and on demand services. Other clips included excerpts from The Handmaid’s Tale and a stand-up show by Jimmy Carr.

Walliams’s character, university employee Linda Flint, described the Asian student as having ‘yellowish skin, slight smell of soy sauce … the ching-chong China man’

The sketch shows David Walliams as university employee Linda Flint describing an Asian student, Kenneth Lao, (pictured) over the phone to her manager

The regulator was researching audience expectations on potentially offensive content across linear TV and streaming services. 

READ MORE: The Little Britain characters you won’t see on BBC… and the ones you WILL: Row over return of hit show as Walliams and Lucas choose to keep controversial scenes including one referring to a ‘Ching Chong Chinaman’ 

The participants, who were questioned by polling company Ipsos, viewed the content as ‘explicitly racist and outdated, and felt that society had moved on’, the report said.

It added: ‘A few participants said they found it funny but seemed embarrassed to say this and could recognise why it would be offensive.’

Participants agreed the clip was ‘not suitable’ for linear TV, with some even saying it should not be available at all, even to stream. 

But the BBC defended the fact it can still be watched online.

A BBC spokesperson said: ‘All jokes in our output are judged on context and intent.

‘The sketches in which the character Linda Flint makes reference to the appearance or race of a series of people are intended to expose and ridicule some of the outdated prejudices and racism that still exist in parts of British society, which is more apparent when viewing the sketches within the context of a full episode, and across the series as a whole.

‘The programme is part of the BBC’s comedy archive and information is provided for iPlayer viewers about the inclusion of discriminatory language.’

The final report for Ofcom found that while a few viewers thought the clip was acceptable for a VoD (video on demand) platform because viewers can choose whether to watch it, they did not think the BBC included an adequate warning as to how offensive the language in the episode was.

The report found: ‘They did not think the current rating was enough, wanting a warning about the racist language and an explanation for why it was still accessible. For some, the content was considered too problematic, even for VoD.’

The episode currently features a warning before a viewer clicks on the show, reading: ‘Contains adult humour. Contains discriminatory language.’

The report said: ‘The clip was considered less acceptable because the participants felt it was purposely offensive in stereotyping and targeting an ethnic minority group for comedy purposes.

‘Some reasoned that it was important to still show this content to reflect the beliefs of society at the time.

David Walliams played university employee Linda Flint in the ‘outdated’ Little Britain sketch in 2002

‘However, there were concerns that it could normalise racist behaviours which could be repeated by young children.’

One respondent, a father from Scotland, said: ‘If I saw my daughter watching that and then mimicking it, I’d be horrified.

‘If kids are watching it, they need it to be explained that that’s not acceptable. It’s passed off as acceptable behaviour towards fellow human beings that come from a different part of the world.’

Another viewer, a mother from Wales, added: ‘It’s not that hard to be offended by it. It’s not in the interests of society to watch those themes anymore.’ 

Episodes of Little Britain, starring Walliams and Matt Lucas, have previously been removed from streaming services following criticism over the use of blackface in the show.

Participants in the Ofcom research were also shown a clip from the Jimmy Carr stand-up special His Dark Material, which is streaming on Netflix.

In the special he makes jokes about sexual violence, including: ‘I don’t have to pay for sex, I’m a rapist’ and ‘you can prevent any rape, just say yes.’

Once the content starts playing the following briefly appears at the top of the screen: ‘Maturity rating: 18 / language, sexual violence references, discrimination / Suitable for adults only.’

The report said: ‘Participants believed that joking about rape pushed boundaries too far and felt this could cause harm to victims of sexual abuse.

‘Some, particularly female participants, described feeling personally offended by the content.’

Other clips shown include those from the Channel 4 show The Handmaid’s Tale, Amazon Prime Video’s The Boys and Disney animation The Aristocats, which is on Disney+.

The research by Ipsos was conducted with 115 participants between January 12 and February 9 2023. 

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