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Channel 4 says No to Irish Famine Comedy

In early 2015 Channel 4 commissioned a pilot script from Irish writer Hugh Travers centred around the Irish Famine (titled Hungry) but now it seems a potential series commission has been cancelled. The original announcement had caused enormous controversy among Irish in Ireland, Britain and the United States. See Irish Times

US / Irish website Irish Central news  were vocal in the debate – see Great Hunger – and in response to their ongoing queries Donna Matthews, Group Publicity Manager for Channel 4, stated this week that “there were no plans to air it,” and that “we were very clear a year ago about Hugh Traver’s script that this was a script commission – not a pilot or a series.” “Nothing’s changed,” she concluded.

Forty thousand protesters signed a petition asking that the series not go ahead as the Irish Famine was not a fit topic for comedy. Only 100 or so signed a counter position. Demonstrations were held outside Channel 4 by a small number of Irish protesters based in Britain.

Travers told The Irish Times that the idea for Hungry occurred after Channel 4 saw one of his other scripts and handed him an open commission for a sitcom. “Any idea I wanted – which was a massive opportunity and at the same time, seriously daunting,” he said.

Why did he choose the famine? “Well, they say ‘comedy equals tragedy plus time’,” he said. “I don’t want to do anything that denies the suffering that people went through, but Ireland has always been good at black humor. We’re kind of thinking of it as ‘Shameless’ in famine Ireland.” The producers were the same team that produced the Emmy / IFTA winning Moone Boy.

Irish Times TV critic Donald Clarke earlier in the year defended the right to show a Famine comedy. “No subject should, however, be off limits to comedy. The flawed assumption running through the furious editorials is that all humor ‘makes light’ of its core subject. This is patent nonsense,” he wrote. What do you / we think?

PS – Grintage is reminded of the furore over the classic Mel Brooks 1968 musical comedy film The Producers which focused on the staging of a ‘Springtime for Hitler’ – ‘this musical is so bad it will close during the dress rehearsal’. One fan’s promo:

The powerful Jewish Hollywood community were up in arms and protests were fired from all angles to have the shoot cancelled. When it was finally released the great late comedy genius Peter Sellers even paid for a full page ad in Variety defending the themes of the movie. Soon the The Producers was accepted as one of the all time screen comedies and even spawned a remake plus a global live stage show that has remained as one of the top box office successes on both coast of the USA. The UK touring show was on in Dublin’s Grand Canal Theatre last July starring Jason Manford and Ross Noble.

And we love happy endings … the script for The Producers won Brooks an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

Sadly no such happy ending for Hugh Travers … fingers crossed for the next one.



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