Comedian and writer Ben Elton has accused the BBC of being too “scared” to allow jokes about Islam.
Elton, who co-wrote critically acclaimed sitcoms such as The Young Ones and Blackadder, said the BBC’s reluctance to run material that might offend Muslims was based on fear rather than morality.
Speaking in an interview with Christian magazine Third Way, Elton was asked if too much deference was shown to religious people.
“I think it all starts with people nodding whenever anybody says, ‘As a person of faith …’,” Elton replied.
“And I believe that part of it is due to the genuine fear that the authorities and the community have about provoking the radical elements of Islam,” he said.
“There’s no doubt about it, the BBC will let vicar gags pass but they would not let imam gags pass.
“They might pretend that it’s, you know, something to do with their moral sensibilities, but it isn’t. It’s because they’re scared. I know these people.”
Elton said it was difficult to use even common sayings: “I wanted to use the phrase ‘Muhammad came to the mountain’ and everybody said, ‘Oh, don’t! Just don’t! Don’t go there!’.
“It was nothing to do with Islam, I was merely referring to the old proverb, ‘If the mountain won’t come to Muhammad, Muhammad must go to the mountain.’ And people said, ‘Let’s just not!’ It’s incredible.”
Elton described himself as an atheist but said he was in favour of God defined as “the mystery of the universe”. His children attend a Church of England school and he said he attended church occasionally.
Elton’s comments were refuted by the BBC. “No subject is off limits for BBC comedy,” a BBC spokesman said.
“The treatment should not cause harm or offence as defined by the BBC’s editorial guidelines or breach other BBC guidelines. There’s no evidence that the BBC is afraid to tackle difficult subjects.”
In the interview, Elton also talked about the decline of traditional sitcoms that could be enjoyed by mass audiences.
“I don’t think it’s the fault of artists, or even commissioners; I think it’s the fault of technology … You can’t smash the Spinning Jenny, but we need to at least recognise its consequences,” he said.
“When I say that the chances of another Dad’s Army developing are diminishing, it’s because even if there is one happening at the moment, not enough people are going to notice for it to enter our consciousness and for us all to come to love it.”
Elton’s most recent sitcom was the 2005 BBC1 series Blessed, which starred Ardal O’Hanlon and Mel Giedroyc as a young couple bringing up children.
He said his 1990s sitcom The Thin Blue Line, which starred Rowan Atkinson as a policeman, had been “castigated – I mean, brutal, absolutely unbelievable. It was accused of being almost wicked in its awfulness”.
Elton added that Blackadder was now seen as “something of value, although not at the time”.
“I’ve recently watched some Blackadders again for the first time in nearly 20 years and I’ve taken enormous joy in the fact that my kids love ‘em,” he said.
“That’s something I never thought about when it was happening – that 20 years later I’d be sitting and watching it with my children.”