Broadcast: News items

Saucy: Media academic contributes to TV history of filth

Media academic and cultural commentator Andy Medhurst makes an appearance on the new BBC television series Rude Britannia this week, but it's all in the best possible taste.

Medhurst, whose book A National Joke was published recently, was interviewed about Victorian music hall and the tradition of 'vulgarity' in the British film industry for the series (to be screened Mon 14, Tues 15 and Weds 16 June at 9pm on BBC 4; Medhurst appears on programmes two and three).

In his book, Medhurst, a Senior Lecturer in media, film and cultural studies, focuses on some key comedians, comedic genres and gags of the 20th century (ranging from Ken Dodd to The Royle Family) in an attempt to unravel how comedy and Englishness are related.

Rude Britannia looks at the history of 'rude culture' and humour in Britain from the 18th century to the present day. Medhurst was invited on to contribute to two of the three programmes after the producers had read his book.

Subjects covered by Medhurst in the interviews included music hall and film comedians George Formby and Frank Randle, the Carry On films, the radio series Round The Horne and more contemporary exponents of British "smut" - the TV sketch series Little Britain and controversial comedian Roy  'Chubby  Brown'.

But what is it about rudeness in humour that makes it peculiarly British? Medhurst says: "Historically I think British hang-ups about sex led to a particular strain of rude humour, based on innuendo and turning cultural anxieties into comedy. More recently, guilt and angst about what is 'politically correct' has led to a new set of concerns over what we are supposed, or allowed, to laugh at."

But surely in this post-permissive age the taste for smutty humour is on the wane? Medhurst disagrees: "There is a newer 'shock tactic' kind of rudeness, exemplified by the likes of Frankie Boyle and Jimmy Carr, but the taste for old-school innuendo has never gone away, however 'liberated' we think we are."

The seaside can lay claim to its own tradition of British smut, from saucy Mutoscopes showing 'What the Butler saw" on British seaside piers to the postcard art of Donald McGill. Brighton went one step further, giving the world that great British exponent of risqué humour, Max Miller.

Notes for Editors


A National Joke: Popular comedy and English cultural identities, by Andy Medhurst, is published by Routledge, price £17.99.

See also:

University of Sussex Press office contacts: Maggie Clune, Jacqui Bealing and Daniëlle Treanor. Tel: 01273 678 888. Email:

View press releases online at:


Last updated: Monday, 14 June 2010