What is the legacy of The Real McCoy?

Cast of The Real McCoy

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It has been 21 years since the BBC's first black sketch series The Real McCoy was first shown on TV. In those years a loyal following has formed. But the BBC's Black and Asian Forum gathered stars and producers of the show to ask why it has been forgotten by most.

The sketch show, which included skits like Doctor Who dubbed for Jamaicans, ran for five series between 1991 and 1996. That's no mean feat. Cast member and BBC London radio presenter Eddie Nestor pointed out most sketch shows have two series at most.

The comedy has been called pioneering by many, not least by the BBC's chief creative officer of vision productions, Pat Younge.

Felix Dexter Felix Dexter says the show has been forgotten

Cast member Llewella Gideon explained what made it original. 'It was successful in a way that black audiences had never seen themselves portrayed in a way that wasn't patronising.'

But if you can't quite remember The Real McCoy, actor Felix Dexter, who starred in the programme, said that's because it has since been ignored by the establishment.

'There's no acknowledgement that this programme existed. In reviews of British comedy it's never there.'

Fan base

Despite this, The Real McCoy still commands a keen following. One of the stars of the show, Leo Muhammad, said he gets fans asking about the show even though it has not been repeated for many years.

'There isn't a day that goes by that I don't get asked when it's coming back. And it's 16 years since it was last shown.'

Co-star Judith Jacob echoed the sentiment that there is still demand for the show. She said her 14-year-old niece still watches her old shows on VHS. But for her this isn't a good sign.

'It's great for us but sad that we haven't got anything else to show.'

Meera Syal and Colette Johnson Meera Syal says younger black and Asian actors don't have the opportunity to break stereotypes

One legacy of The Real McCoy was the Asian sketch show Goodness Gracious Me, which started off on Radio 4 before going on to TV.

Meera Syal starred in both Goodness Gracious Me and The Real McCoy. She expressed concern for the opportunities for black and Asian actors in Britain today.

'I think we've gone backwards from the 1990s. I know so many black and Asian actors who have gone to the States because they can't get acting jobs here. If we wanted to play terrorists we would be busy all the time.'

Next generation

Up-and-coming black comedians said at the event that they aren't hostage to the choices of BBC commissioners. They can now bypass comedy controllers to go straight to their audience.

Stand-up comedian Eddie Kadi's profile was raised after becoming the first black UK comedian to headline The O2 arena. He urged people in the audience not to bother trying to get a show commissioned by the BBC.

'Forget talking to the BBC - be a producer.'

One comedian who has done this is Debra Odutuyo. She created Meet the Adebanjos, a sitcom about a British-Nigerian family. After getting private investors to put in over £100,000 to produce the show, it was put up on the internet. It has since been bought by TV channels across Africa.

Eddie Kadi Comedians like Eddie Kadi have gone straight to their audience, bypassing BBC commissioners

And a new writing initiative could offer a break to aspiring Black and Asian comedy writers. In May the TV Collective are launching a writing competition with BBC Comedy. The writers whose scripts are chosen will go on a four day retreat with senior BBC writers before pitching their ideas in front of BBC commissioners.

In the meantime, the possibility that The Real McCoy will be recommissioned was raised by one of its producers Terry Jervis. He offered to put up half of the money for a co-production with the BBC of a new series.

'If we really wanted The Real McCoy to come back,' he said, 'I guarantee we could make it come back.'

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