Sussex Centre for Cultural Studies


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.

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Last updated: Monday, 14 June 2010


25 March 2011



Dr Sharon Smith

Dr Sharon Smith, who was employed by the University in 2008-09 as a postdoctoral researcher, died on 13 March following a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Sharon was part of the Sussex Centre for Cultural Studies.

Sharon was an ordained Buddhist in Triratna (formerly Western) Buddhist Order UK, where she was named Vijayatara.

Her research report on LGBTQI Buddhisms in the UK - for the 'Queer Spiritual Spaces' project - was exemplary. It was complex and interpretive in understanding socio-cultural differences and intersectionality, showing a profound depth and range of historical and textual knowledges.

Sharon was a commensurate professional and produced work to the highest academic standard; her writing was detailed and managed to convey an immense expertise together with insight and grace.

Sharon was a very special colleague, who had a peaceful and warm presence, an unusual patience and gentle humour. She was supportive and generous, honourable and kind.

We were very fortunate to have her as part of the team, and to have her wonderful company.

Professor Sally Munt Director, Sussex Centre for Cultural Studies