Mark from Luton writes:
I'm black - my parents came here in the 60s and I was born here. I'm really interested in the English thing and devolution and enjoyed your article which mentioned Desmond's a few weeks ago. You were right - the characters in that show did not substitute "British" for English. I read this article about Desmond's on the BBC Guide To Comedy site yesterday. It's by a guy called Mark Lewisohn:
Set in a barber shop - Desmond's - situated in the south London district of Peckham, its wry humour was wrung not only from the characters and situations but also from the generation gap and the attitudinal differences between West Indian immigrants and their British-born descendants. Desmond's salon was the Peckham equivalent of the Cheers bar in Boston, with family, friends and neighbours popping in to play out the latest episodes in their life. Little in the way of hairdressing seems to have been done, but as a local meeting place it was second to none. (In this, Desmond's typified many black-run barber shops which, like, say, Italian barber-shops, tend to be more welcoming and friendly, and more of a social centre, than their white-English counterparts.)
Do you notice Lewisohn refers to "British born descendants" of West Indian immigrants and then goes on to say that black barber shops tend to be "more welcoming and friendly, and more of a social centre, than their white English counterparts"?
So, Lewisohn mentions the "white English", but it's negative. White English barber shops are less "welcoming and friendly" than black! And it's OK for him to say that.
Personally, I've never come across a barbers quite like Desmond's - part of the plot was that Desmond himself was not a good businessman. There are friendly black-run barbers and friendly "white English" run barbers. There was one near where I lived in the 80s where the old men were always in there, swapping betting tips, gassing to the owner and generally not having their hair cut.
But Lewisohn paints a stereotypical picture of white English establishments as stand-offish. Where does he get his hair cut? Mayfair?
It's the same with black and "white English" ladies' hairdressers: there's a "white English" one in my road where the regulars all sit around drinking tea and gassing. And some of the regulars are BLACK, Mr Lewisohn.
Is Lewisohn's remark supposed to appeal to we blacks? Because, to me, the guy comes across like a creep of the first order. Patronising jerk. And what colour is he? Why is he prepared to make negative generalisations about "white English" barbers and list the descendents of black immigrants as "British"? Desmond's was never afraid of the word "English".
Lewisohn's a slimeball of the lowest order.
Thanks for that, Mark.
I too have little time for Mr Lewisohn, and I'm fascinated by what you've come up with. I've linked to the BBC Comedy Guide piece you mention.
Yonks ago, Drew and Fiona came across an article on the BBC Comedy Guide by Mark Lewisohn, which referred to the Scots as Scots and the English as "Sassanachs"!
It's probably still there - although Drew & Fiona complained, they received no reply from the BBC.
Definitely a typical bigoted BBC employee.
A further word of warning: Don't take what Mr Lewisohn writes on the BBC Comedy Guide for gospel truth either - I've only skimmed but I've already spotted several factual errors, and writing intelligently about the alternative comedy scene of the early 1980s seems way beyond him.
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