Fri 21st Nov 2014 | Last updated: Thu 20th Nov 2014 at 22:52pm

Facebook Logo Twitter Logo RSS Logo

Comment & Blogs

If only someone like Dolores Hope could act as official censor at the BBC

A censor would not have to be Catholic; just someone who can tell the difference between laughter and obscenity

By on Friday, 23 September 2011

If only someone like Dolores Hope could act as official censor at the BBC

The Daily Telegraph, my newspaper of choice (it shows what a fuddy-duddy I am) is, like all the other newspapers, full of stories of human frailty. That’s why it sells. It is not as explicit as the tabloids in its pursuit of “human interest” stories – but it is still full of them.

That’s why I always read the obituaries first. Generally they are uplifting and often they are inspiring. You read about the best of human nature (such as war heroes who do amazingly courageous things and then return to working quietly in a factory for the next 50 years) before becoming absorbed in murder and mayhem in the other pages.

Earlier this week I was again buoyed up when I read the obituary of Dolores Hope, wife of the comedian Bob Hope, who has died aged 102. I learnt that they had been married for 69 years (itself an achievement) and that Dolores gave up her own promising career as a singer to create a happy family home for her husband. But what interested me particularly was the statement, “Bob Hope would try out new jokes on his wife and children, with Dolores, a devout Roman Catholic, deciding if they were suitable for a family audience.”

I loved the picture of the Hope family sitting round the kitchen table and falling about laughing at what used to be called “good clean fun”. It reminded me of another comedian I read about recently: Tommy Cooper. In an interview with Michael Deacon (yes, in the Telegraph) comedian Russ Abbot spoke with affection of his friendship with Cooper. He recalled Cooper as “one of the greats. His act was totally clean. Whether you were eight or 80 you could laugh at Tommy Cooper.” Another fine tribute and making the point that you can be genuinely funny without resorting to smut.

What has happened to our idea of humour when the deplorable and obscene interchange between Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand in October 2008 was allowed on air by the BBC? I blogged about this some time ago, saying I supported the campaign of Charles Moore, former editor of the Telegraph, who was refusing to pay his TV licence until the BBC sacked the two men. I know it is deeply unfashionable to say it, and I’ll probably be accused of Grundyism, but I approve of censorship. I don’t make a distinction between “adult” humour of the filthy kind, and what is permissible for children. Jokes that are not suitable for children’s ears are not suitable for adults’ ears either. Good old Dolores Hope; would that someone like her (preferably a woman) was employed as “Official Censor” at the BBC. They would not have to be “devout” or even a “Roman Catholic”; just someone who can tell the difference between laughter and obscenity.

  • D B McGinnity

    I profoundly agree with your sentiments about ethical standards in broadcasting and I agree that wit and humour are best when they are not coarse and crude. However, the idea of censorship is fraught with danger and smacks of totalitarianism. The question is: Where you do draw the line? If you can forbid dirty jokes, then you can forbid clean jokes, and then all jokes. Whilst your sentiments are honourable, and very catholic from a historical perspective. The idea is unworkable in a contemporary society.

  • tommo

    How true.  A return to decency and clean humour is needed across all our media channels.

    Actors, Producers, Crew, Audiences – and don’t lower yourselves to participate in it.

  • Anonymous

    I agree to some extent; but, censorship is one thing, and merely not supporting obscenity through taxes is another. While I have misgivings about the former, I firmly support the latter.

  • Maryp

    Totally agree with you Francis. Trouble is, the BBC have done such a wonderful job of brainwashing us over the past 40 or so years that most people take its propaganda as normal – and we actually pay them to do it!

  • Honeybadger

    Why just stop at the BBC? Why not go the whole hog and have all the channels monitor output where cheap rubbish that passes for ‘comedy’ and ‘humour’ is spewed out on the screen on a regular basis?

    We might pay for the TV Licence but we also pay money through the advertising that is slotted between programmes.

    Filthy ‘humour’ does not require any extra work on the part of the writers or purveyors. Why?

    It’s the lazy way out in a lot of cases combined with a ‘can’t be bothered’ attitude. Comparing classic, well-written situation comedies and comedians of the past with what passes for the skill/gift today is like comparing a gourmet meal with a pot noodle.

    Classic comedy lasts because it required hard work and sacrifice on the part of their their creators and actors where burning the midnight oil, good teamwork, interraction and a base on reality are just a few of the magic ingredients. Good comedy and comedians transcend age and genres.

    We remember Bob Hope, Laurel and Hardy, Tommy Cooper, Charlie Drake, Morecambe and Wise and young people are getting to know them and love them.

    Jonathan and Russell who?

  • Sinclaircdm

    Morey Amsterdam was another comedian who never told an off-color joke. Classy guy!  Today’s comedians have no class, no intelligence, and little talent so they resort to off-color “jokes.”

  • Anonymous

    The BBC, and other TV stations DO censor their shows – comedy that is derogatory towards women, and racist jokes, are for the most part consigned to the past. (Thank you political-correctness)

    A great deal of hilarious comedy is very clean. However, not everyone will find this funny. Humour is complex, and it often is about release of some kind – be that the embarrassment or horror found in something like ‘Keeping up Appearances’ or the angry tirades of Basil Fawlty.

    Shocking, ‘offensive’ or foul-mouthed comedy is also the same. We are laughing at the shock of what someone is willing to say. Whilst it may not be to everyone’s taste I think you would be hard pushed to prove that it is a corrupting, or unhealthy influence.

    I am quite sure that people that people equally resent paying up the TV license for the staid and boring comedy that I watch. But they still do, and so do I – because we both still get what we like to watch. Not everybody is made in the same mould – so we can’t expect everyone to have the same sense of humour.

    Lets remember that Monty Python was once the object of much criticism it terms of its content. Before we too aggressively call for censorship – we should be aware of the future classics we might crush.

  • Anonymous

    Its very hard to draw the lines between the two unfortunately.

  • peppin the short

    Yes, and quite a bit of Monty Python IS STILL objectionable.  A women giving birth while doing the dishes, a hugely obese man projectile vomiting, digs against Catholicism, the list is endless..  Some of their stuff is very funny.  Let not the tunnel of time change what was gross thirty years ago into something which is acceptable today…

  • D Corrigan

    Remember Bernardo Gui and The Holy Inquisition in “The Name of the Rose”. There should be no cheerfulness, humour, levity or laughter, especially amongst children, like in the Industrial Schools and Magdalene Laundries. Beat and burn all comedians and those who would make light of The Teachings of The Roman Catholic Church. It does not matter that The Roman Catholic Church has become the joke.

  • Anonymous


  • Anonymous

    I don’t like religious jokes for the most part as I think they cut deeper than most. So I don’t much enjoy some of the specifically Catholic jokes. Disgust, or people feeling disgusted is not wrong, as long as that’s what they choose to watch. I happen to find the obese man sketch very funny, each to their own it seems.

  • peppin the short

    @Corrigan:  I am a great fan of humour and comedy.  I did not say ban all humour – you are saying that.  In fact I actually said that some of M Python’s skits (quite a few, actually) are very funny.  Unfortunately, many DO go beyond the (yes, CATHOLIC) limit very often.  These are objectionable.  For example the little song and dance when they make fun of the Church’s stance on contraceptives or when John Cleese shows a classroom of children how to make babies by bringing in his wife and giving them a practical demonstration.  There’s quite a gap between what I am saying and the parallels that you are drawing up in a (not very successful) effort to ridicule me.  I think that eventually you will find that the joke (actually a tragedy, save for the grace of God) is on you, not the Church.

  • Myfanwy Alexander

    As a professional comedy writer, I know very well that obscenity is what people do when they cannot think of anything funny.

  • Markcastilano

    The filth is usually in the mind of the listener. I have all Dave Allen’s tapes and they are very funny. The jokes are so clever that they are ‘double entente’. I heard the wonderful Kenneth McKellar singing a lampoon version of ‘Phil the Fluter’s Ball’ with the words “ Have you heard of Phil form the town of Ballymuck. Sure he didn’t give a damn, and he didn’t give a (- – – -)”. Mr McKeller never used any obscene expletives, bit the people howled with laughter. Why? because it was funny. Many Catholics are prigs in stuffed shirts. The crudest jokes tend to come from priests and nuns. Parody of the truth is always funny, as depicted in “Private Eye” Loosen up for God’s sake. I think the God and religion is very funny. All the Jewish and Catholic comedians have made their careers from mocking religion.

  • peppin the short

    “All the Jewish and Catholic comedians have made their careers from mocking religion.”  Yes, everything is grist to the mill of comedians, but that doesn’t make it right.  As far as I know, Dave Allen was an atheist so he hardly counts as a Catholic, right?  A lot of his sketches mock the Church and might be considered offensive.  Tell you what – try finding the same kind of anti-Catholic vitriol for say, Islam.  Go on, I dare ya!  When we offend the Catholic Faith, we are mocking and making fun of God and the Church He set up on earth through Jesus to bring the Kingdom of Heaven here.  Would you really stand on a beach and raise your middle finger at an oncoming tidal-wave?  Some things are not of this world; some things are above being made fun of.  Society is paying the terrible price of ignoring, excluding, denying and mocking God.  I have heard priests and nuns tell jokes and not once did I hear one of them say something which made a mockery of the Church.  Yes, they do tend to indulge in a sort of harmless banter about certain aspects of their work which stems directly from their vocation and the familiarity they have that comes through that work, but that’s where it stops.  Did you ever read the ‘Bless Me Father’ books?  They were written by a former Catholic priest and illustrate my point perfectly.  They are a perfect example of how things Catholic can be recounted and commented upon in a humorous way without descending to the depthss plumbed by Monty Python, Rowan Atkinson et al.

  • Markcastilano

    Like Dave Allen, I had a classical catholic education, and it was for this reason that he thought it was funny, as indeed I do. What is more funny than adult men dressing up in hideous garments, and uttering incomprehensible (interminable) nonsense that has no relationship whatsoever with the tenets of Jesus Christ. Dave Allen was a very moral and generous gentleman. He was guest of honour and after dinner speaker to many catholic charities and raised a lot of money. Take it or leave it, fun, humour and parody about religion is here to stay. Witlessness is tedious and boring.

  • peppin the short

    “What is more funny than adult men dressing up in hideous garments, and
    uttering incomprehensible (interminable) nonsense that has no
    relationship whatsoever with the tenets of Jesus Christ”  The fact that you are under the impression that what these men say has nothing to do with the tenets of Jesus Christ is a pointer that your knowledge of the Catholic faith is extremely shallow (your classical Catholic education notwithstanding)  The ‘interminable (nonsense)’ prayers are directly extrapolated from Jesus’ sayings.  They are a reflection based on His teachings and they infer realities (brought about by Christ becoming man and living amongst us and dying for us) certain consequences which influence us both in this life and the next.  I’ll tell you what has nothing to do with the tenets of Jesus – phrases like Python’s “Lobbest thou the holy hand-grenade…”  Like Allen and many others, you seem to have decided to step aside from your religion and just use it to have some fun.  Pity.  Seriously, try to read some of Neil Boyd’s ‘Bless Me Father’ series.  It’ll do you a world of good… This is where I stop as useless ping-ponging is, well, useless…

  • D B McGinnity

    Bob Hope had a team of 50 public relations men. Everything he said in public, even the ad libs were written for him. Every move he made, and everything he said was monitored by his press men. The private shows he gave in Las Vegas, London and elsewhere were uncensored and were filthy. The same applied to Milton Berle, Jack Benny and all the stand up comedians at the time. It is called double standards.Let us not be obtuse whilst steeped in Catholic piety and idiotic zeal. Drop this tedious subject now.