My children have been very moved by the various TV programmes leading up to Comic Relief, in particular one involving Lenny Henry in Kenya. On their own initiative they set themselves challenges and got sponsorship. Their questions have led us to discuss politics, culture and the use of humour to highlight inequalities, injustice and our own inconsistencies.
It beggars belief that Comic Relief would open with a spoof of The King's Speech which involved absolutely no irony, hidden message or clever humour. All it said was – it's OK to roll your eyes and laugh at people who stammer, to interrupt them, to hurry them, to make fun of them and to finish their sentences. What sort of signal does that send out to young people who stammer and to their peers who are so crucial to their self-esteem and acceptance?
In a strongly worded complaint Leys Geddes, chair of the British Stammering Association, said, "Thousands of children are teased and bullied every day simply because they stammer. By doing stuff like this, you give other children permission to continue this foul treatment and encourage adults to snigger and turn a blind eye…In your drive for audiences and edge, you trample on the very vulnerabilities you claim to dispel."
The BBC recently showed an excellent programme about young people attending a course at the Michael Palin Centre for Stammering Children. Comic Relief spends considerable sums on anti-bullying projects. It's a pity that no-one involved in the production or showing of the opening sketch seems to have spotted this real irony.