Great Britain

Nish Kumar: BBC must be clear – did it axe The Mash Report in a ‘war on woke’?

The BBC must put an end to the “useful myth” it has cracked down on left-wing comedy, according to the satirist Nish Kumar. Either that, or it should admit that a so-called “war on woke” really did happen.

The comedian and former presenter of BBC2’s The Mash Report believes the repeated suggestion that his hard-edged topical show was axed by the director general last year to appease Conservative critics should not be left unchallenged, no matter how helpful to the BBC the uncertainty is.

“The concern for me is that it’s a useful myth for Tim Davie to have out there, because it placates the British right. It gives the sharks a bit of blood,” Kumar tells the Observer Magazine in a forthright interview today.

At the time of the “difficult decision” to pull the plug, the BBC said it remained “very proud” of the show, a spin-off from The Daily Mash satirical website which also starred Rachel Parris, Steve N Allen and Ellie Taylor. During the run of the series Kumar and his team had been criticised by rightwing media commentators for their regular jibes at the government. But the BBC said the move was made simply “to make room for new comedy shows”.

This weekend the corporation would not comment further on the decision, or on Kumar’s call for greater clarity.

Rachel Parris also starred in the series.
Rachel Parris also starred in the series. Photograph: Christian Sinibaldi/The Guardian

Speaking to the Observer again Kumar has underlined his position. “If the BBC does not say something publicly to make it clear they were not reacting to the political content of the show, it will set a bad precedent. It may well stop people pitching new programme ideas. It is not about any reassurance they may have privately given me since.”

Kumar first heard the show was being dropped by the BBC in March last year, a fortnight after Davie had made a high-profile speech about his new efforts to represent a wide range of opinion. Comedian and writer Richard Herring was one of many who spoke up for The Mash Report. Tweeting at the time, he said it was “the best UK topical comedy show for decades and also ironically gave right wing comic @GeoffNorcott a regular platform to do his stuff. Very bad decision to axe it.”

The news came to Kumar in an email from the controller of BBC2 that blamed a lack of money, the comedian said. Kumar accepted the show had enjoyed “a good innings”.

But a report in the Sun later that spring claimed Davie had made a personal choice to lose the show, despite its popular following among younger viewers. Kumar was surprised, he tells the Observer, that no BBC denial of the story followed, although he was privately told it was “all nonsense”. Kumar is now asking for a public BBC denial: “There’s an important principle at stake. The story suggests a person’s political leanings can have a bearing on what they get to do on television, which is unacceptable.”

The 35-year-old argues that encouraging programme-makers to censor themselves is at least as dangerous as outright state censorship.

Zeppotron, which made the show for the BBC, is in discussions with commercial broadcasters about bringing it back to the screen.

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