Entertainment & Arts

Meera Syal: TV's portrayal of British Asians has 'gone backwards'

Meera Syal Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Syal said there is currently a "conservative climate" in TV commissioning

Meera Syal has voiced her frustration at how the portrayal of Asians on TV has "slightly gone backwards".

The writer and comedian said TV should not just feature South Asian characters in dramas like BBC One's Three Girls, about the Rochdale abuse scandal.

"Of course it's not like those things don't happen," the Goodness Gracious Me star told Radio Times.

"But if that's all that TV is doing, it looks like that's the only thing Asians do. It's a problem."

Three Girls is based on a child sexual exploitation ring that saw nine men, mainly of Pakistani origin, jailed in 2012 for grooming white girls.

Syal made her name in the 1990s as one of the stars of sketch show Goodness Gracious Me and is also known as a screenwriter and as an author of novels including Anita and Me.

Image caption Syal (second left) said Goodness Gracious Me could return "in a different format"

Asked whether TV had made progress in showing Asians in Britain, Syal replied: "I think we've slightly gone backwards.

"Some of the stuff I'd want to have on TV wouldn't get on at the moment. It's a conservative climate with lots of period pieces and lots of nostalgia.

"When people think of stuff with South Asians in, it tends to be programmes like the upcoming Rochdale abuse drama."

She added: "If there were five or six or seven shows on TV featuring South Asians, then absolutely Rochdale is a worthy subject to investigate - but it's about context.

"We should also be thinking about stories that just show us as people, not issues."

'Changing slowly' for women

Asked whether TV had got better at depicting women, she said broadcasters could take a leaf out of theatre's book by looking beyond traditional casting.

Television is "changing, but needs to change a little quicker", she said.

"In theatre there's lots of cross-gender casting, like Tamsin Greig playing Malvolio in Twelfth Night at the National. And in Elementary, the US version of Sherlock Holmes, Watson is played by an Asian American [Lucy Liu].

"It would be nice if it happened a bit more in Britain because it can unlock something terrific."

Goodness Gracious Me returned for a special to mark the 50th anniversary of BBC Two in 2014, and Syal revealed that it may return again - but not necessarily as the same type of show.

"We don't want to redo something for the sake of it, but we're discussing something," she said.

"We'd like to bring our brand of humour back but in a different format. We have to be confident we've got the material and I think we have. We're gathering it. That could well happen."

Syal will be heard on the radio next, starring in new BBC Radio 2 comedy Parental Guidance on 13 March.

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