Five Get #Cancelled on Social Media: is it okay to enjoy classic children’s stories written by authors who had bigoted views?

Photo by Corrie Barklimore. flickr.com/photos/80144821@N00/2767723506

Last night I broke the lockdown rules, writes Nikita Sharma. I went to a place I have been visiting since I was a child. Kirrin Island. I spent my time jumping over rocks encasing natural pools of crystal-clear water and feeling the soft as powder sand beneath my feet as I explored the castle ruins.

Of course, I wasn’t there physically but who said you couldn’t feel something so vividly so wholly, you feel as if you were truly there?

I think that’s the magic of books. The ability they have to transport you to a different time and different land. That’s what I like best about the children’s books I still keep close to my heart. But whilst reading them in these past few years, I’ve had guilt and outrage swirling inside and then like smoke, hanging over me.

Finding out your favourite childhood authors held racist and sexist views and realising now that they incorporated those views into their writing? It doesn’t feel good. And rereading today, you can see a line here and there not sitting right, suddenly you see the hidden messages and understand the double meanings.

Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl. These were my heroes. Their works are legendary.

It really is upsetting thinking that if I were to meet my favourite childhood writer, they probably wouldn’t like me very much. And the reasons would simply be because of the colour of my skin.

Being a woman of colour, issues like these really mess with my conscience. But I can celebrate the books that mean so much to me without excusing the person behind them

Someone of my generation shouldn’t be enjoying these books after finding out the truth. Nowadays, typed in bold HASHTAG CANCELLED on social media platforms is the only direction you need to know what persons should be avoided. Everything is either black or white. But it was one of the things that welcomed me with a warm embrace. The words called me back.

And it wasn’t just me – millions of others felt it too! Introducing us to a world of giants and witches and made-up nonsense languages to decoding secret messages and catching smugglers; these books had humour and originality, they encouraged us to broaden our imaginations.

So, we have these clearly wonderful pieces of works unfortunately written by problematic people, what do we do? Is this just a case of separating the art from the artist?

Should we even judge people for ideals that were the norm to have ‘back in the day’ with values we hold today? Was Roald Dahl and his anti-Semitism simply a product of his time? These are outdated views, and we must accept that it was a different time.

But this frame of debate takes me back to the essay I was forced to write on Winston Churchill a few years ago. I remember my blood boiling as my teacher chattered about what a great man he was, knowing his racist views and inactions were to blame for the three million people who starved to death during the Bengal Famine.

However, apart from collecting ‘woke points’ on Twitter, holding dead writers accountable isn’t doing much. It gives no productive support to movements and organisations that aim for change. Being a woman of colour, issues like these really mess with my conscience and to ‘forgive and forget’ isn’t something I can apply. But balance is helpful. I can celebrate the books that mean so much to me without excusing the person behind them.

We can enjoy literature and art that have outdated views as long as we accept that they are just that, outdated, while we work towards creating pieces that are tolerant, kind, and fair to all.    And with that, I’ll be off on my next adventure! So long.

Kurupt to the core: Bafta-winning People Just Do Nothing star Steve Stamp gets set for the BBC TV sitcom’s big screen debut

It’s been seven years since People Just Do Nothing first aired, and in that time this niche, rather underrated BBC Three mockumentary has steadily gained a devoted cult following, writes Fin Kettle.

“It was a few things that just came together at the right time,” says star and writer of the show Steve Stamp.

Seven years on from its pilot, the Kurupt FM guys have almost done it all, they’ve toured as their musical alter egos to the likes of Glastonbury and Ibiza, had a failed US remake, made a highly anticipated spin-off film releasing this summer and have even won a BAFTA for best scripted comedy in 2017.

Stamp is well known for his role as the creatively named DJ Steves, whose drug-fuelled antics and all-round obliviousness lead to some of the funniest moments in the show. Such as his anecdote on his relationship with drugs. “I wouldn’t say I’ve got a drug problem, I’ve got the opposite of a drug problem to be honest. I’ve got no problem with drugs whatsoever. I’ll try anything!”

“I’m quite lucky in many ways, but people seem to love Steves. He’s a soft, sensitive character that people are genuinely really nice when I see them in the street,” he says.

While many know him from his screen persona, he often goes under the radar in terms of his writing talent. After all, it was the script that ultimately got them the BAFTA win, but Steve explains that their writing process is uniquely collaborative.

“Because all of us work on the script, we sit down and talk about it, but I was basically given the role of main writer although it is very collaborative, which isn’t unique to our show, but the fact that all the lead actors are so involved in the writing is quite special,” he says.

“I’d say I’m most proud of the Valentine’s day episode, where Steve’s nan dies. I think that was like the big emotional moment. That is the one we won the BAFTA for as well.”

It is safe to say the BAFTAs were a surreal moment for the Kurupt boys, being surrounded by childhood heroes and red carpets, but Steve says it was just like a fancy wedding.

“It’s surreal man, it’s a bit like going to a wedding, like everyone’s in suits and there’s all this champagne knocking about,” he says.

“At first it was a bit stiff and awkward, like I don’t think I really belong in a place like that. It’s also nerve-racking being nominated because deep down you want to win but you know if you do you’ve got to get up in front of everyone.”

Steve reveals that he isn’t into the whole celebrity culture and rarely gets starstruck, but there were a few ‘pinch me’ moments at the BAFTAs.

“I remember seeing David Mitchell and I don’t really get starstruck, but he’s Mark from Peep Show!”

“Steven Graham came up to us and was just saying that ‘you lot are all so funny,’ that was mad for me,” he says with an excited grin on his face.

People Just Do Nothing, a sitcom about the hapless crew who run a pirate radio station in West London, had simple origins: just a group of friends messing around trying to make each other laugh with a bit of MC’ing on the side.

“It started with me and Hugo (Chegwin) MC’ing over these beats and doing these characters, trying to make each other laugh,” he says.

“Then I met up with Seapa (Grindah) in Thailand while I was travelling and we would do these characters that we’d seen in these pirate radio documentaries and just make each other laugh. When we got back, I thought there was potential for it, so we filmed some of it just to showcase that we were funny.”

Eventually they were picked up by BBC producers who saw potential, but Steve says it wasn’t an instant process.

“We had a little bit of YouTube fame, which in those days wasn’t really a thing as it is now. It kind of naturally evolved after that. It wasn’t like the next day we were on telly or whatever,” he says.

“Originally we were scared of those TV people, like we didn’t want them to ruin our authentic idea, but actually they developed it more and encouraged more of the drama and family elements.”

In terms of what it’s like on set, you may think it would be relaxed with improv encouraged but that isn’t always the case.

“None of us really know our lines a lot of the time,” he laughs.

“Most of the talking head portions are 80% improvised, whereas the other scenes are 80% scripted. You have to be careful with improv as there is a rhythm to each episode and you have to stick to that and make sure the viewer is carried along with it.”

“Improv is fun to do, but sometimes it can sort of take away from what’s important.”

People Just Do Nothing was clearly influenced by classic British sitcoms like The Office and Peep Show, but it was also just as much inspired by documentaries. This was the case when it came to finding a story for the much-delayed spin off film, People Just Do Nothing: Big in Japan.

“When you’re writing a film, things have to be more cinematic in that you have to have scenes that feel bigger with more impact, otherwise it will just feel like a long episode,” he says.

“We had a lot of ideas like going to a festival or Ibiza, but they seemed obvious and cliched. So we started talking about their song becoming famous in Japan and it kind of made sense and felt believable. That came from this documentary we’d seen about a Grindah-esque music manager being completely lost trying to get his client a gig in Japan.”

The film was scheduled to release last year but with the rise of the global pandemic it was decided to delay the release till August 2021.

It is safe to say that Steve’s career in the entertainment industry is only just beginning. He has various other comedy projects being commissioned at the BBC written by and starring himself but says he wants to take more of a backseat from acting, instead focusing more on his skills as a writer and maybe even directing. The sky is the limit for the multi-talented Steve Stamp.

“I’ve got a couple projects lined up, mainly writing jobs and some acting gigs with the PJDN crew. Honestly, I mainly see myself as a writer.  I’ve done acting but I want to write and who knows maybe go into directing.”

People Just Do Nothing: Big in Japan is due to be released on August 18.