Television

What Went Right With… The Real McCoy?

The Real McCoy logo titles on a CRT television in a dark room

The Real McCoy was a fantastic, groundbreaking British sketch show which ran for 5 series from 1991 to 1996 . The impressive cast included a host of British black comedians including Felix Dexter, Robbie Gee, Llewella Gideon, Judith Jacob, Collette Johnson, Leo Chester aka Leo Muhammad, Eddie Nestor, Meera Syal, Ishmael Thomas, and Curtis Walker. There was also appearances by Kulvinder Ghir, Junior Simpson, Judith Sim, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Rudi Lickwood, Perry Benson, and Kathy Burke. Even sportsmen such as Linford Christie, John Barnes, and Frank Bruno made cameo appearances such was the success of the show.

The way I remember it, The Real McCoy had a relatively large audience for a BBC Two show. I distinctly remember everybody at my school talking about it the next day, acting out their favourite sketches and shouting catchphrases like “Mash-up Lucifer!”. And speaking of “Mashing up”, my personal favourite of the show was the late, great Felix Dexter, who had such a presence, I have fond memories of his standout characters; the accountant, the preacher, and Babylon…

The show was acted and written by black comedians (and when I say “black” I include Asians) and because of this, The Real McCoy called attention to racism in society, especially casual racism. This sketch perfectly illustrated all the clichés white bigots bring up, in fact things haven’t changed that much in 20 years…

The show also called attention to minority-to-minority bigotry with a brilliant sketch featuring an Asian woman bringing her Caribbean boyfriend to meet her father. The sketch had all the obvious racism including disapproving looks from the Asian father, but when his daughter tells him that her boyfriend is a doctor, he welcomes him with open arms. This sketch was not only unique, it was one of the only times that I even saw an interracial relationship between British ethnic minorities. There was even a role-reversal sketch where two women tried to chat-up and pester two men in a bar (calling them “darling” etc.) making for a topic that’s still relevant today. In fact many of the sketches are still hilarious two decades after they were first aired. By the way, it’s not easy to find individual sketches on video platforms such as YouTube in order to show them as examples of the show’s brilliance (more on that later).

The Real McCoy included a good number of impressions and parodies; there was Robbie Gee doing a great impression of Frank Bruno, an impression-slash-parody of Normski (called Cantkeepstillski), as well as Seal, Soul II Soul, and Jackson 5. There was also a recurring Eastenders parody called “Rub-A-Dub”, a parody of Good Morning Britain (or GMTV) titled “What! Time You Call This Britain”, and Auntie G, a parody of Cilla Black and other daytime female presenters of the day. There was also some very memorable sketches such as Misery’s West Indian Restaurant with its stereotypical bad service and a brilliant sketch with three black men showing up to the British National Party and turning the tables on the racist in charge (a sketch that again, doesn’t seem to be on YouTube but can be viewed on a Real McCoy Facebook fanpage).

Now of course, like any other show, not everything was roll-around-on-the-floor funny, for instance Dyam Fool Man wasn’t particularly funny in my opinion (similar to Burnistoun‘s “Doberman Man”) but “bad” sketches were few and far between. Most of the time, the comedy was razor sharp and pertinent to the political and societal issues of the day. Sketches like this proved that the creators of the show knew how to satirise events in a way that was relevant as well as funny…

And let’s not forget all the classic characters such as Mr. Frazier by Leo Muhammad….

…And Nathaniel, the accountancy student played by Felix Dexter…

Safe to say, The Real McCoy was hugely distinctive, especially among all the white comedy shows airing on TV back in the day. The uniqueness wasn’t just down to the cast however, it was also because of the format of each episode. I mean where else would you get a cut-away from a comedy sketch to dancers moving to Reggie Stepper’s “Little Miss”?

The show Goodness Gracious Me was a spin-off (of sorts) featuring only the Asian comedians from the show. It did contain some funny sketches that once again challenged racial stereotypes but it always bothered me that the rest of The Real McCoy‘s cast never really made it to mainstream TV like Meera Syal and Sanjeev Bhaskar did. Robbie Gee was in the sitcom The Crouches but it was largely disappointing. Of course Felix Dexter appeared in Citizen Khan but again, it wasn’t anywhere near the level of The Real McCoy in terms of laughs and breaking new comedic ground, if anything it was going backward, with the majority of the characters failing to subvert any stereotype whatsoever.

Whilst on the topic of Goodness Gracious Me, sketches like this one in The Real McCoy pre-empted everything that was to come. This set the tone for the forthcoming show by challenging stereotypes and making minority culture accessible to a white audience…

Speaking of stereotyping, if you think of the various TV shows minorities have either made or taken part in since the 1990s (The Kumars At Number 42 for instance) they actually reinforced stereotypes instead of challenging them. The Kumars was set in the back of a corner shop, it featured a downtrodden son of a pigeon-English speaking father, mother, and grandmother. The 2000s seemed very regressive when it came to minorities being represented on TV. This kind of comedy to me, was a far cry from the days of The Real McCoy and when you come to the present day and take into account a show like the aforementioned Citizen Khan, we may as well be in the 1970s in terms of mainstream entertainment and its representation of minorities. I guess we have had a few shows such as the sketch show Famalam and the sitcom Man Like Mobeen to represent black Britain but nothing seems to crossover to the mainstream these days.

On a wider scope, there’s way too many safe, middle-of-the-road sitcoms and sketch shows on British television today. From Mrs. Brown’s Boys to Still Open All Hours, most TV comedies have the feel of a kids show, almost as though they should be airing on CBBC. This all started in the 2000s with the likes of Little Britain and The Mighty Boosh, and although this may be an acceptable tone and style for certain topics, characters, and creators, these days almost every comedy on terrestrial television sports this “family friendly” aesthetic. Gone are the days of the subversive and the risky, I mean where is the modern equivalent of Bottom, The League Of Gentlemen, or indeed The Real McCoy?

Sadly, in August 2013 Collette Johnson died of cancer and then in October 2013 Felix Dexter also passed away after suffering from cancer. In November that year, the BBC aired Respect: A Felix Dexter Special, a short half-hour show with hardly any fanfare or promotion. Collette Johnson was ignored altogether. It was very infuriating that Felix Dexter in particular, who was such a comedic genius, was eulogised in such a minor way, I mean there was no repeat of The Real McCoy even to commemorate his career. To me it seemed like two of the all-time greats were being quietly forgotten like the show they once appeared in.

There was a compilation VHS of The Real McCoy back in the day but no DVD has ever been released. In 2017 it was reported that the first series of The Real McCoy would be available to download from the BBC Store but strangely a few months later the BBC Store shut-up shop. And since the videos could only be played through the BBC’s website, the series vanished almost as soon as it saw the light of day.

There have been various calls and even petitions over the years to officially release the show on DVD, and yet every time they seem to fail. As a response, you here crap like “there’s not enough demand”, but the TV networks seem to release DVDs of Cyderdellic and Dennis Pennis which had a similar “cult” crowd without any regard for so-called “demand” or “audience”. If the BBC are so afraid of creating DVDs that may not sell, why not at least make the series available of Netflix (or iPlayer) then perhaps gauge the amount of audience it has and decide with actual evidence whether The Real McCoy has a big enough fan-base to warrant a DVD release, because I say it definitely has a large following (who are willing purchasers). Although sadly, with rumours that The Real McCoy has been deleted “by mistake”, I won’t hold my breath waiting for an official DVD…

The Real McCoy felt completely different and utterly fresh when it first aired, it subverted cultural norms and mocked stereotypes and it did so in such an anarchic and infectious way that I’m surprised it hasn’t ever been repeated on TV in the two decades since it ended (although if the speculations are true about the show being “lost”, then I know why). There is a huge void, a chasm left in the British television schedule, you can feel it. There is nothing like The Real McCoy on television today and that’s very evident when you tune into the telly these days and see nothing but derivative, regressive shite. It’s a shame that all the clips on YouTube of the show have poor quality audio and picture; with tracking lines and static, but I guess that’s the only way fans can keep the show alive. Because if it was up to the BBC, you wouldn’t even know this show existed.

The Real Deal.

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