Trigger Unhappy

(Not) Apologising for sitcoms, stereotypes and silliness

Trigger warning #1

In this post, I look at Allo, Allo, the BBC sitcom set in France during World War Two that ran for 9 series between 1982 and 1992 on BBC1, which contains scenes of crude stereotypes of French people and Italians and women that some French people, Italians and women may find offensive.

Trigger warning #2

Allo, Allo contains portrayals of German soldiers and members of the Gestapo as grasping, feckless and incompetent that some Germans may find offensive. And some non-Germans may find these portrayals even more offensive bearing in mind atrocities committed by German and other Axis soldiers during World War Two. 

Trigger warning #3

Allo, Allo contains numerous sexual references, heavy use of innuendo, double entendre and single entendres in a religious context (most notably The Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies by Van Klomp1) that some Christians may find offensive.

Trigger warning #4

This article makes heavy use of trigger warnings, which some readers who think that people should just use their common sense may already have found offensive or insulting.

Trigger warning #5

This article overuses trigger warnings in a hyperbolic and belittling fashion, implying that those who say they require trigger warnings are failing to take responsibility for themselves. Some readers may find this insulting, offensive or problematic.

Trigger warning #6

Some readers who appreciate subtlety have got the point by now. Enough already.

Okay. Here’s the storm in the tea cup, or at least the short squall in a thimble. According to Tim Dawson writing for Spiked Online, Allo Allo…

has been slapped with a content warning by streaming service BritBox. It joins a prestigious list of much-loved British comedies now insulted with trigger warnings, including Dad’s Army, Fawlty Towers and Blackadder.

Tim Dawson goes on to observe:

What we need here is creative freedom. I think I was extremely lucky to benefit from the cultural and artistic liberalisation which began in the mid-20th century and, for a few glorious decades, allowed us to enjoy the traditional alongside the avant garde. This freed up creatives to pursue their visions away from the beady eyes of one-time state censor, the Lord Chamberlain’s Office. We seem to have come full circle.

I agree. But let’s stick with Allo, Allo.

Listen Very Carefully

Back in December 2018 when Jeremy Corbyn denied calling the Prime Minister, Theresa May a ‘stupid woman’, I wrote about Allo, Allo.

Over on my official website I posted some content relating to my previous book, The Sacred Art of Joking, which is about how jokes work, and how they go wrong, especially in the realm of religion. I wrote about the ‘stupid woman’ phrase and its use in the sitcom Allo, Allo. To save you the bother of clicking, here’s what I wrote (with a few improvements):

Allo, Allo did not shy away from catchphrases and repetition. This ‘you stupid woman’ phrase was almost guaranteed to happen every week. (Computers are now intelligent enough that they could probably write an episode of Allo, Allo with an algorithm). But why is ‘you stupid woman’ funny when Rene Artois says it?

Knee Jerks

On reading those very words, some may cry out that it wasn’t funny either then or now. That’s often a knee-jerk response that one has to deal with when talking about jokes. Comedy is a bit of a confidence trick and some people like to defend themselves against all such tricks by folding their arms and not playing that game. If that’s you, you can stop reading now and have a nice life. (It won’t be all that nice).

Have the killjoys now left the room? Good. We continue.

In every episode, Rene would be amorously propositioned by one of his waitresses who were all bafflingly in love with this overweight, balding, aging café proprietor. Rene’s wife Edith would walk in a cry out in shock, “Rene, what are you doing?” And Rene would begin his reply with, “You, stupid woman.”

At this, you could hear lots of people laughing. That laughter isn’t fake or canned. They thought it was funny. They did the joke week after week, so it was clearly effective and worth revisiting, which in turn made it even funnier. And up and down the UK (and Germany, I’m told), millions of people laughed along.

Rhythm Helps

But why is it funny? It has good basic rhythm. That’s a start. What’s more, Edith, whose intellect is being impugned, isn’t the sharpest tool in the box. But then, in Allo Allo, no-one is very sharp. It’s a panto filled with buffoons and clowns. But that’s not really why the line is funny.

The line is funny because of the situation. Rene is trying to defend the indefensible. He is obviously complicit in a pass from a sexy French waitress and been caught red-handed. He is about to cover his tracks with a scarcely plausible cock and bull story. The line ‘You stupid woman’ was often followed by another line like ‘Isn’t it perfectly obviously what I was doing?’ A lie is then spun, and Edith believes it. Because she is stupid. And a woman.

It does sound a bit sexist now, doesn’t it? No point in pretending otherwise, but times change. It didn’t seem quite so bad in the 1980s which was a more sexist time in some ways. And let us also bear in mind this is a 1980s depiction of France in the 1940s during wartime, which was more sexist again.

Or was it?

Complicated, isn’t it?

In some ways, it isn’t that complicated. You just need to understand the importance of context. That’s the point I make in my previous book, The Sacred Art of Joking. Context is crucial. It’s such an obvious point that it seems hardly worth making and yet jokes are now in the news virtually every week. Someone has said a word that is deemed unsayable ‘in any context’. The words themselves are ‘triggering’. So these awful, thoughtless people must be hounded from office or have their honorary professorship taken away. Someone did a comedy routine ten years ago and is not sufficiently ashamed of it and can’t now present an awards ceremony.

This is now normal. So perhaps this is a truth that is so obvious, we’ve forgotten that we actually know it. Or maybe we have actually forgotten it.

Get The Sacred Art of Joking

In The Sacred Art of Joking, I make the point that the words used in a joke tell you virtually nothing about whether or not those words should have been said or not. I go on to discuss some examples in more detail - like Count Dankula and the Pugdog - but focus on the realm of religion, but digging into Jerry Springer: the Opera and The Book of Mormon musical. It is such a shame God-fearing people can be the most humourless and prone to lose their minds at the use of certain words. Hopefully, readers will find them to be sane words, in a world that’s lost its mind. You can get a copy here – along with a copy of my latest book, The Gospel According to a Sitcom Writer.

If you’ve got kids, do you need some free Christian audio you can listen to as a family? Do you know about the Faith in Kids podcast? If so, do you actually listen to it? There are over 50 episodes for listening pleasure that incorporates fun facts, Bible, sketches, music in bursts of twenty minutes or so. The aim is to delight your ten-year old, thrill your seven-year old and be bearable for your fourteen-year old. Ed and I just finishing up a summer series on The Beatitudes and I’m really proud of these episodes. Go on over and have a listen. It’s on Apple, Spotify and anywhere you get podcasts.

Try the Faith in Kids podcast


We need not worry about The Cracked Vase with the Big Daisies by Van Gogh.