Who Should We Let In?

Following his recent film on the Victorian benefits system, this eye-opening documentary once again saw Ian Hislop attempting to take some of the heat out of an incendiary hot button topic by setting Britain’s immigration debate in a useful historical context.

The question of who we let in and who we keep out is one that’s ‘haunted’ us for generations, argued Hislop. But for the Victorians, an open door policy of welcoming all asylum seekers – even known terrorists, like the French republican bomber Simon Bernard – was at the heart of Britain’s self-identity. ‘This country is the asylum of nations,’ thundered The Times in 1853, vowing to defend the principle ‘to the last of its treasure and the last drop of its blood’.

But by the turn of the 20th century, an influx of Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe had attracted the ire of the ‘British Brothers League’ – essentially a Victorian version of Britain First, but with better spelling – while the press stirred the pot with #fakenews about the non-existent massacre of British subjects by the Chinese in a bid to stoke fear of ‘the Yellow Peril’. Sounding familiar?

Hislop visibly struggled to hide his disgust as modern tabloid contrarian Katie Hopkins brazenly defended her description of refugees as ‘cockroaches’ and ‘vermin’ who should be turned back using gunships. Insisting she was merely a reaction against the Metropolitan Liberal Elite™, Hopkins told Hislop: ‘It’s because of people like you that there are people like me. You are Dr Frankenstein and I am your monster.’ Blimey – I think it’s fair to say she won’t be renewing her Private Eye subscription.

Hislop’s great skill is the way he tackles such weighty issues with a lightness of touch – happy to camp it up with silly wigs and hats, while the jaunty animated graphics and music had more than a hint of Monty Python about them.

Despite that, there was no doubting the seriousness of Hislop’s purpose, elucidated in a closing appeal in which he advocated not an open door policy, but at least an open mind one.

TV extra:


Peter Kay’s Comedy Shuffle,

Remember when people used to complain about ‘bl***y repeats’ all the time? We must have had less to worry about back then. Anyway, now the repeats are chopped up and called a ‘Comedy Shuffle’. But at a time when we’ve been battered by bad news, I have no complaints at all about dipping into a selection box of Peter Kay’s best bits, even if the only new thing he’s actually contributed is a title sequence. And, to be honest, even that made me laugh.


The Celebrity Crystal Maze

This revival of the action-packed 80s game show kicked off with a charity special largely made up of reality TV stars that, according to new host Richard Ayoade, ‘society has accorded celebrity status’. With the exception of jungle queen Vicky Pattison, they were a pretty hopeless bunch, which made it hard to tell whether Ayoade’s air of quiet despair – such as when wearily explaining to them what ‘adjacent’ means – was real or an act. Either way, he’s an inspired choice.

Published in Waitrose Weekend, June 29, 2017

(c) Waitrose Weekend