Ofcom bans Harry Hill skit about ‘Victorian freak show’ transgender man

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A broadcaster has agreed to remove segments of an old Harry Hill comedy show that made jokes about transgender people after a ruling from TV regulator Ofcom.

The item in question was from a 2008 episode of comedy show Harry Hill’s TV Burp, in which Hill mocked the documentary The Pregnant Man, following trans man Thomas Beatie.

The TV Burp episode was recently re-aired on comedy channel Dave, sparking complaints about its content.

Introducing a clip from the show, Hill said: “I do enjoy medical documentaries on Channel 4 such as The Real Elephant Man, The Boy Whose Skin Fell Off, and 80-Year-Old Children – the sensitive treatment of rare disorders or stories that in less thoughtful hands might just end up as exceptional exploitation reminiscent of the worst excesses of the Victorian freak show. Which brings me to the latest offering…”

After a clip explained that Mr Beatie is transgender, Hill remarked: “Oh I see – it’s a woman with a beard. It’s just that with a title like The Pregnant Man, I assumed he was a pregnant man. He was Tracy but now she’s Thomas. Fair enough.”

In a surreal skit following the clip, Hill claims he “used to be Sinead O’Connor… and now I’m pregnant by Dale Winton”, putting on a fake beard and pretending to give birth to a doll.

When the doll calls him “Dada”, he attacks it with a toy shark.

In its ruling on the clip, Ofcom noted the law had changed since 2008 – when it had initially cleared the clip – with gender reassignment now listed as a protected characteristic under equality law.

The report affirms: “Given the proximity of the clips of Mr Beatie to Harry Hill’s use of [the phrase ‘Victorian freak show], and the relatively prolonged and mocking treatment of Mr Beatie by Harry Hill which followed, we considered it likely that the audience could have also interpreted the use of the phrase ‘Victorian freak show’ to refer to Mr Beatie in particular and the transgender community more widely.

“We considered that this was likely to be highly offensive to the transgender community, and to viewers in general.”

It added: “We considered that the statement ‘Oh I see – it’s a woman with a beard’ to describe Mr Beatie was also likely to be highly offensive to the transgender community, and to viewers in general.

“This is because this statement appeared to reduce Mr Beatie’s transition simply to the addition of facial hair, and by mockingly juxtaposing the fact he had facial hair with the fact he had opted to retain his female reproductive organs.

“We noted that Harry Hill subsequently made various mocking and derogatory comments towards Mr Beatie’s gender identity.

“For all the reasons set out above, Ofcom was of the view that Harry Hill’s comments about Thomas Beatie had the potential to cause considerable offence, particularly to transgender people but also to viewers in general.”

UKTV argued it had made some steps to edit out some of the more offensive material, but Ofcom pointed out the segment had aired at 4 PM in a pre-watershed slot with no content warning.

The regulator added: “Taking all the elements above into account, we were of the view that the offensive material would have exceeded the audience’s likely expectations and was not justified by the context. We concluded that the material was therefore in breach of Rule 2.3 of the Code.”

The broadcaster said the matter was resolved as the broadcaster has “edited out this item completely from this episode going forward so the item would not be broadcast again by UKTV.”