Harry and Paul
BBC1, 26 September 2008, 21:00
Ofcom received 42 complaints regarding a sketch in the Harry and Paul show which depicted a so-called upper class character, played by Harry Enfield, encouraging a Northern man - whom he treats as his dog - to mate with his
neighbour's Filipina maid. The scene showed the Northerner , known as Clive, failing to show interest in the maid and the Harry Enfield character shouting encouragement and urging Clive to mount her before sending the maid back to the
The complainants expressed concern that the sketch was offensive to the Filipino community and women in general, by presenting the Filipina as an object of sexual gratification.
Ofcom recognises the sensitivities involved when comedy makes reference to or represents any particular ethnic community in the United Kingdom . In this case it was a Filipino who featured in the broadcast. We therefore considered this material in the
light of Rule 2.3 (generally accepted standards) which says that …broadcasters must ensure that material which may cause offence is justified by the context…
This particular sketch was one of a number which ran throughout the series in which Harry Enfield plays an extreme comedy stereotype of an upper class toff living in the South of England. This caricature has little sensitivity to those outside of
his social class. Consequently, he treats Clive like his dog. It is in this context that the sketch showed the Harry Enfield character encouraging Clive to mate with his neighbour's domestic help, for whom he also has little or no respect.
Whilst Harry and Paul is a new series, Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse are long established comedians whose style of humour often focuses on presenting characters in an exaggerated and stereotyped way for comic effect. The comedy frequently comes from
the absurdity of the situation.
In terms of the degree of offence and the likely expectation of the audience, we considered whether the material was justified by the context of the sketch as a whole.
As noted above, this item featured established comedians and the sketch was typical of the material presented by Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse in this, and other series. Therefore it is Ofcom's view that the material would not have exceeded the
likely expectation of the vast majority of the audience.
Further, in Ofcom's view, there was no intention to ridicule women or the Filipino community in this sketch. The target of the humour was very clearly the upper class character played by Harry Enfield who holds such a deluded view of his social
superiority that he treats individuals with lower social status with ridiculous disdain. The Filipina domestic help was featured as a character in the sketch to highlight this extreme and ridiculous behaviour.
Comedy often, and rightly, engages with challenging and sensitive subjects such as social class. In this respect Ofcom must regulate potentially offensive material in a manner that also respects freedom of expression – the broadcasters' right to transmit
information and the viewers' right to receive it. Ofcom must therefore seek an appropriate balance between protecting members of the public from harm and offence on the one hand and the broadcaster's right to freedom of expression on the other, taking
into account such matters as context.
Although this sketch may have caused offence to some individuals, it explored the issue of social class in an absurd way which was not intended to reflect real life. In our view this was the approach and effect of this sketch. On balance, it is Ofcom's
view that the material did not breach generally accepted standards because it was justified by the context.
Not in Breach