BBC's Nick Robinson apologises after Harry Enfield uses racial slur on air while discussing blackface

Julia Hunt
Contributor
Harry Enfield appeared on Radio 4's Today programme. (PA)

Harry Enfield has triggered a backlash after saying he thinks there should “still be a conversation” about the use of blackface in comedy.

The comedian, 59, spoke out during a debate on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

He said he had darkened his skin to play people “several times in the past” and, discussing the time he played Nelson Mandela as a dealer, said while he wouldn’t do it now, he doesn’t regret it.

Nick Robinson later issued an apology after Enfield used a racist term in the interview.

The presenter branded the comments “offensive” in a social media post he made after the discussion was broadcast, adding that he is “really sorry a racial slur was used on air”.

During the debate, Enfield used a racial slur when quoting the name of a 30s comedy by GH Elliott and Al Jolson.

The issue of blackface has been a hot topic following the death of George Floyd in the US.

In recent days, Little Britain was removed from BBC iPlayer (as well as other streaming sites BritBox and Netflix) following concerns over its use of blackface and stereotyping, and sketch show Bo' Selecta! was removed from All 4 after its star Leigh Francis apologised for playing black characters.

Speaking on the Today programme, Enfield said: “I have played Nelson Mandela in one thing for laughs and I did it because this thing had come round from the BBC that we couldn’t do it anymore.

Read more: Ant and Dec sorry for using blackface on Saturday Night Takeaway

“So I thought well who is my hero – Nelson Mandela, who I had the pleasure of meeting once.”

The star then considered stereotypes.

“Well, at the time there was a lot of things in the papers about drugs and stuff, so I made him a drug dealer or a pusher of alcopops to children and things like that, which I thought was so wrong that it was alright and, you know, I wouldn’t do it now but I don’t regret it,” he said.

Enfield added that he feels “there should still be a conversation about it, really”.

Little Britain stars David Walliams and Matt Lucas at the 2007 National Television Awards. (PA)

The comedian also pointed out that he has often played white prime ministers, such as Margaret Thatcher and David Cameron.

He said if Tory politician Rishi Sunak were to be elected as prime minister, he would “find it difficult that I would not be allowed to play him because of the colour of his skin”.

Harry Enfield arrives for the opening night of the musical Lord of the Rings at the Theatre Royal in London in 2007. (AP)

The star’s comments triggered a sizeable response on social media, with one person saying on Twitter that it was “one of the most offensive conversations” they had heard.

Read more: Jimmy Fallon delivers emotional apology following blackface controversy

“Oh no, I love Harry Enfield but he’s clearly got to be cancelled,” said another, while one listener said they could not believe their ears.

However, another Twitter user said it was “an illuminating discussion”.

“People can draw their own conclusions & that's why it is good to hear different points of view,” the person posted.