Friday, October 9, 2009

Anton Du Beke shouldn't be fired by Strictly Come Dancing

And so the controversy about Anton Du Beke howls on. Now Bruce Forsyth has apologised – or been made to apologise – for saying people shouldn’t get so worked up about “nicknames”.

I don’t agree with him that “Paki” is no worse than “limey”. “Paki”, after all, is a word of abuse used by racist thugs. “Limey” is not. I don’t suppose there are many English people who live in fear of being attacked by hordes of American skinheads bellowing “Limeys go home”.

None the less, I don’t think Anton Du Beke should be sacked by Strictly Come Dancing.

I know what he said was horrible. Telling anyone, let alone a woman of Indian heritage like Laila Rouass, that they “look like a Paki” is not a harmless joke. If this is Du Beke’s idea of witty repartee, thank goodness he’s only a dancer and not the presenter.

But this is the point. He’s a dancer. If Du Beke were in a job that actually mattered, certainly he should be fired. Say he were a policeman or a judge or a politician or a teacher. No one in those professions should get away with using such language. If you think it’s all right to call people with dark skin “Pakis”, you’re not fit to do any of those jobs, or indeed any other important or influential job.

As Du Beke is a mere dancer, though (a man paid to do nothing more significant than fling his feet about), I don’t think it’s a matter of national urgency that he be sacked for a single offence. Reprimanded by the BBC, yes. And of course he should say sorry (which he has, however clumsily – “I do not use racist language”, indeed). But for an unimportant man doing a trivial job to lose his livelihood after one misdemeanour would be a bit much. If he does it again, of course, fire him by all means.

This is not like the Ron Atkinson case. Working as a television football commentator, Atkinson called the Chelsea player Marcel Desailly a “lazy, thick nigger”. He was rightly sacked. Atkinson’s job was to give analysis. If he thought “lazy” and “thick” were appropriate words to characterise a whole race, and that “nigger” was an appropriate word at any time, he wasn’t much of an analyst.

Similarly, Carol Thatcher was sacked from The One Show for saying a tennis player looked like a “golliwog”. She was meant to be a reporter. If she thought it acceptable to use that word even off-air, she’s not someone you’d go to for even-handed reporting.

You may argue that, as Du Beke appears on a show routinely watched by an audience of millions, including children, he should be a spotless role model. Well, possibly. But the outcry over this business will have made it pretty clear to young and impressionable minds that what Du Beke said was wrong. We all know Du Beke was an idiot. We all know he said something vile. Now let’s see if he can behave himself.

Incidentally: until now, Strictly Come Dancing has been trounced every week by The X Factor in the ratings.


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