Can Little Britain stagger out of the gutter this time? We can only hope | Barbara Ellen

The bad boys of repulsive comedy want to clean up their act – 12 years too late

Little Britain is returning after a 12-year break, following a one-off Little Brexit episode for Radio 4 last year. Creators David Walliams and Matt Lucas seem to be hinting that they will now endeavour to be more “politically correct”, saying: “It’s a different time… tolerances change”, and “We made a crueller comedy than [we’d] do now”. A different time? I’m not sure. Some of us were repelled by Little Britain the first time around.

A lot of comedy is destined to date badly, but Little Britain went one better and felt dated from the start. Rather than, as billed, riotous subversive snapshots of the “real” UK, it came across as Dick Emery for haters. A lurid yet monotonously repetitive monster’s ball of fat-suited grotesques, dragged-up harridans, welfare-ghouls and coarse stereotypes that oozed judgment and malice from every laboured premise, wrung-dry catchphrase and soulless payoff.

This was a pageant of the anti-aspirational – characters that viewers could feel smug about not being. Gormless office workers – “computer says no”. Fake-disabled Lou – so brave to call out the multitudes of fake disabled. Mail-order bride, Ting Tong – what’s funnier than foreigners? And of course Vicky “yeah, but, no but” Pollard – the shell-suited Widow Twankey of barely concealed prejudice. At that time, young single mothers were among the most scapegoated groups in society. Bravo to Walliams and Lucas for spotting the LOLs to be had from that.

While Little Britain targets generally took their lampooning well, I’d argue that’s to their own credit, not the makers’. Certainly, it’s no justification for empowering bullies to feel they suddenly had a legitimate cultural moment to hang their bile on. Nor does it excuse what came across as less a valid creative process than a forensic study of “little” people’s lives, as observed, one presumed, from the smug seat-belted comfort and safety of a gratis black cab bound for Broadcasting House. That sense of a rock being gingerly lifted to examine the sub-humanity pathetically wriggling beneath. “See that, Matt, it’s comedy gold – take notes!”

They said it themselves – “cruel”, but this was a highly selective cruelty. While sometimes comedy screws up on taste levels, here it was empathy that was found wanting: I’m not saying that comedians should hang nightly from microphone stands, weeping for the poor, but even outright venom requires a modicum of perspective and soul.

This was my problem with Little Britain – Walliams and Lucas always seemed a tad overfond of punching down. I’d have thought that one of the tricks of great comedy is to punch up, at least across, not down – way-yyy down – at those already struggling. This isn’t about censorship, or gagging or neutering humour, it’s about not lunging straight for the lowest common denominator, going for those who have no chance of fighting back.

So, let’s welcome the new, improved Little Britain, but forget all the disingenuous guff about “different times”.

Sorry Sting, but tantric sex just isn’t a turn-on any more

Trudie Styler and Sting
Trudie Styler and Sting: ‘It seems he was misinformed.’ Photograph: Jean Baptiste Lacroix/Getty Images

I have some bad news about tantric sex – apparently it’s not that sexy. Tantric sex came to prominence back in the 1990s when the musician Sting memorably told Q magazine about his lengthy tantric sex sessions with his wife, Trudie Styler: “You don’t spill your seed,” explained Sting. “You never lose control. It can go on for five hours.”

Many innocent people in the UK still haven’t fully recovered from these mental images, and anyone triggered by this column should feel no shame about seeking help. However, it now seems that Sting was misinformed, and Mrs Sting just plain unlucky, as the Indian philosophy Tantra isn’t about long, drawn-out Kama Sutra-style “sexy-times”. According to a forthcoming exhibition at the British Museum, it’s about “spiritual enlightenment and divine power”; transcending fleshly pleasures such as sex to reach a higher mystical plane.

It would appear that Sting is belatedly owed an apology – at least he tried to make Tantra sound sexy. He failed miserably, but top marks for the effort. While I’m sure the exhibition will be fascinating (it opens in April), the reality of Tantra sounds a bit like a really boring, worthy, over-priced yoga class, with a load of Nag Champa incense sticks stinking the place up. On reflection, Sting was not only the first but also the best tantric-influencer.

Thomas Markle is the parent you wouldn’t wish on anyone

Thomas Markle
‘Thomas Markle sold his daughter.’ Photograph: HANDOUT/Reuters

Is Thomas Markle one of the most embarrassing relatives of all time? Meghan’s father has turned being a mortifyingly indiscreet blood relative into an art form – or, should I say, a cash cow that never stops lactating.

Last week, Pa Markle could be found airing his views on his famous daughter and her husband yet again, this time on the Channel 5 documentary, Thomas Markle: My Story. On the programme, nestling alongside such rarefied television highlights as Bad Girls Behind Bars and Dogs Behaving (Very) Badly, Markle helpfully acquainted us with his views on the couple’s decision to leave the royal family (“Embarrassing… They are turning [the royal family] into a Walmart with a crown on”), how “owed” he was by Meghan, Harry and the royal family and, once more, how ignored and ill-treated he felt.

Is anyone still taking this griping seriously? Markle, 75, sold interviews and photo opportunities about his daughter, including an infamous faked paparazzi stunt. Actually, I’ll shorten that: Markle sold his daughter. It would be good if people, particularly all those indefatigable foot-stamping, mouth-foaming Meghan-bashers (guys, where do you get the energy?) could take a moment to imagine how it would feel if a parent did this to them – how confusing, upsetting and alienating it would be?

I don’t wish to be aggressive towards an ailing, miserable, flawed old man – the same applies to that ever-ranting, hate-filled stepsister, Samantha, who’s stricken with MS.

However, can’t Markle Sr see that, even by participating in this documentary, he’s continuing to do the very thing Meghan begged him to stop? I truly hope he gets to see his grandson, but it comes to something when the happy couple would have to consider frisking Grandpa Markle for E! channel recording wires and disposable cameras on the way in. However tragic, this is one estrangement that remains defiantly unshrouded in mystery.

• Barbara Ellen is an Observer columnist


Barbara Ellen

The GuardianTramp

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