Basil Brush is run to earth by PC pack
Puppets were once allowed to say things people weren’t, remembers TV writer Colin Bostock-Smith
Poor Basil Brush. After a spotless 40-year career in show-business, the cheeky fox has been run to earth. On a BBC2 show he cracked a joke about a gipsy stealing his wallet which offended members of the Southern England Romany Gipsy and Irish Traveller Network. Now police are following up allegations of racism.
I'm leaving aside speculation about the sensitivities of the average Irish traveller to wonder whether it’s all over for our favourite puppets and other inanimate artistes.
When I wrote Basil's scripts back in the early Eighties, I relied on one solid maxim: that a puppet can say things a human character cannot. As a result Basil sprayed insults with almost Tourettes-like enthusiasm. He was rude to everyone.
He told his guest the late Frankie Vaughan that he'd only had one hit, and insisted that it was called "Give me the torchlight, give me the spade, and leave the rest to me". Frankie complained to the Daily Express, but no-one else cared.
Demis Roussos, the enormous berobed Greek songster, was easy meat. "Hey, Dennis," Basil asked, "how many people have you got inside your dress?"
Basil was not alone in enjoying such freedom of expression. Operator David Claridge and writer Richard Curtis (yes, he of Notting Hill fame) established Roland Rat's appalling character before I came along to take over the scripts. I happily complied with Roland's habit of describing himself as a star, and every other performer as "rubbish".
As for Metal Mickey, I was able to put in his aluminium mouth a series of scathing opinions about his fellow actors. None of them minded. He even called his venerable co-star Irene Handl a "silly old bat" and got away with it. On screen, anyway. (Privately Irene loathed "that bloody robot", and would give it a sly kick during rehearsals.)
Now, thanks to the racism charge, such freedom may be gone forever. Boom, boom.