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Curry and Chips (1969)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Curry and Chips (1969)
LWT for ITV, 21/11 - 26/12/1969
6 x 30 min, colour
DirectorKeith Beckett
ProducerKeith Beckett
ScriptJohnny Speight

Cast: Eric Sykes (Arthur); Spike Milligan (Kevin O'Grady); Norman Rossington (Norman); Kenny Lynch (Kenny)

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An Irish-Pakistani factory worker stirs up racial tension amongst his colleagues.

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Based on an idea by Spike Milligan and written by Johnny Speight, Curry and Chips (ITV, 1969) is very much a product of its day. The sight of Spike Milligan, blacked up, and sporting a ludicrous Pakistani accent, would today doubtless have provoked an even greater outcry than it did at the time. Nevertheless his comic creation, the half-Pakistani, half-Irish Kevin O'Grady, aka Paki Paddy, does at least frequently display superior intellect to his bigoted white co-workers.

Some of the statements beggar belief in their vitriol and, at times, pure racial hatred. When commenting on the British Raj, Norman is keen to explain to Kevin that, " we were out there educating you lot... a bloody rotten job we made of it too." As with his previous creation, the hugely successful Till Death Us Do Part (BBC 1966-74), in which the character of Kevin O'Grady originally appeared, writer Speight insisted that he intended to lampoon the racism of his characters. But the criticism levelled against Till Death - that the prejudices of its characters reinforced, rather than challenged, those of its audience - seemed even more pertinent here. It is interesting to note the delighted response of the studio audience to off-hand racist comments.

The treatment of the character Kenny, also of Asian descent, is also intriguing. Spared much of the abuse leveled at Kevin because of his British birth, initially he turns against Kevin. As he remarks to Arthur, "I might be a bit brown, but I'm not a wog like him." It is the casual abandon with which words like 'wog', 'coon' and 'Paki' are endlessly repeated by the characters that is most worrying. Even when attempting to dilute the vitriol with humour, as in Norman's line, "If they sent all the wogs back home, there'd be an extra hour's daylight," there is a distinctly uneasy sense of where the writer's sentiments lie, particularly when viewed through contemporary eyes. Even the sympathetic Arthur, who hires Kevin and frequently comes to his defence, is not above using words like 'wogs' and 'coons'.

It is some measure of the show's failure that it was cancelled after only six episodes, a humiliation considering the stature of both its writer and star at the time.

Ali Jaafar

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Video Clips
Complete first episode (25:32)
Till Death Us Do Part (1966-75)
Milligan, Spike (1918-2002)
Speight, Johnny (1920-1998)
Sykes, Eric (1923-2012)
Race and the Sitcom