NOT WORTH THE INVESTMENT: The BBC don’t think the audience is big enough to justify the cost of a DVD release
AFTER MONTHS of campaigning for the return of The Real McCoy, The Voice has now learned that the BBC will not be issuing the show on DVD.
Since the beginning of our ‘Bring Back The Real McCoy’ campaign last year, so many of you have sent in emails and taken to our Facebook and Twitter pages to express your desire for the series, which aired on BBC Two from 1991-1996, to be made available for purchase on DVD.
Sadly, The Voice must now report that the BBC will not be issuing the much-loved black British sketch show on DVD, as they do not believe the demand for the programme is big enough to justify the cost.
A BBC Worldwide spokesperson told The Voice: “There are no current plans to release The Real McCoy on DVD as, regrettably, we do not feel there is a big enough market to justify the investment. However, we would be happy to discuss licensing the rights to the series with a third party DVD distributor.”
This decision is undoubtedly a blow for black British comedy, which has had little television exposure since The Real McCoy came off air 17 years ago after a successful five series run.
Featuring an array of black comedy talents including Leo Muhammad, Felix Dexter, Llewella Gideon and Curtis Walker, the programme is widely recognised as one of the most iconic black British comedy exports.
Numerous live comedy shows billed as Real McCoy reunion events have been sell-out successes; clips from the show remain hugely popular on YouTube; and the correspondence that has flooded The Voice since the start of our campaign would suggest that the show is still very much in demand.
However, indications received by the Beeb give the impression that the programme is not as popular as we may think. According to a BBC spokesperson, when the show was released on VHS in 1994, sales were “low”. The spokesperson also explained that the last correspondence the Beeb received from viewers concerning The Real McCoy was back in 2008. So for them, the show is not considered commercially viable.
It is a double edged sword. BBC Worldwide, which is the commercial arm of the BBC, exists to maximise value from programming in order to return profits to the BBC for the benefit of the licence fee payer. So, in short, they won’t put out content that they don’t feel will make money. And frankly, what smart businessperson would invest in a product that they didn’t believe would bring them a considerable return?
But on the other side of the coin, the BBC is funded by the great British public – which, of course, includes black British viewers. Yes, the black community is a minority community in Britain so yes, in the larger scheme of things ‘our’ programmes will be considered ‘niche’ or ‘specialist’. But while our community may be in the minority, we’re not non-existent, so why shouldn’t we – black British licence fee payers – be able to purchase on DVD BBC programmes that speak to us?
Since coming off air, the series has never been repeated on any BBC channel (remember, it’s not just BBC One and BBC Two, there are also satellite channels BBC Three and BBC Four). So surely a DVD release is something the Beeb could and should consider investing in themselves?
Comedian and comedy promoter John Simmit, who performed a set on The Real McCoy, doesn’t think the BBC’s decision is justified.
“The show's continued following is easily quantifiable,” he says. “If they [the BBC] take the time to check the show’s YouTube hits, performers’ live sales, Facebook clips and how many promoters still use that credit [The Real McCoy] to shift live tickets, they would see that. A DVD would definitely sell.”
Fellow comedian Rudi Lickwood, who also delivered a comedy set on The Real McCoy agrees. He is disappointed at the BBC’s decision.
“Once again, the Caribbean viewer is seen as a non-entity, yet our influence, our style of dress, our language and attitude has helped urban music take the charts by storm,” Lickwood says.
“Black British comedy is an untapped market – you only have to look at YouTube to see that.”
STILL IN DEMAND: Leo Muhammad still performs as his Real McCoy character Mr Frazier
Also sharing similar sentiments is comedy star Leo Muhammad. One of the writers and performers on the show, Muhammad’s much-loved Real McCoy character Mr Frazier remains in such huge demand, that he still performs live shows as his ‘bruk tooth’ alter ego.
“If The Real McCoy was available on DVD, it would sell – absolutely,” he says. “To this day, Mr Frazier is still in such huge demand that I’m always performing that character. On top of that, there is not a day that I go out and I don’t get asked by someone on the street, ‘When is The Real McCoy coming back?’ The programme was so popular and it became such an iconic element of the black British community, that to deny there is a demand for it is ridiculous.”
Also joining the debate is fellow Real McCoy star Robbie Gee, who told The Voice: “ If I had a pound for every person who asked me when the show is coming back, I’d be rich. And you only have to look at the popularity of the show on YouTube to see that it’s still in demand. If it was available on DVD, I’m confident it would sell – most definitely.”
Last year, the BBC hosted an event in London to celebrate the 21st anniversary of the famed black British sketch show first hitting our screens. The event was attended by both media folks and fans of the programme, and reunited several of the show’s performers and producers.
At the event, one of the producers, Charlie Hanson, was frank about the programme’s journey, revealing to the audience that it had been a "challenge” getting it on air, as the BBC seemed to have reservations about commissioning a show written by and starring black talents.
Since the show’s demise, similar conspiracy theories have been expressed by fans of the programme, who suspect it is a racially-motivated agenda which has caused the BBC’s
apparent lack of interest in the series. Leo Muhammad believes this is the case.
“I’ve been told in no uncertain terms by insiders at the BBC that had The Real McCoy been a ‘white’ programme – considering we were often getting audiences of over one million – it would have automatically been moved from BBC Two onto BBC One, and loads of money would have been pumped into it,” Muhammad says. “That never happened with The Real McCoy.
“I think the bigwigs at the BBC put out The Real McCoy to fill a quota because they didn’t have any other black programmes on the network. But because the programme became so powerful in the sense that it was both funny and political, I believe that’s why it got pulled. I really believe there was a conspiratorial element to the story, in that the powers that be didn’t want to promote that type of political consciousness to the black community.”
Well, the future for The Real McCoy is still uncertain. Though the BBC won’t be issuing it on DVD, there’s nothing to stop interested DVD distributors from approaching the broadcaster to discuss licensing options.
Beyond that, there is the wider issue of having modern day programmes that represent the black British community. Former Real McCoy performer Eddie Nestor hopes to see this happen.
“It is sad that they’re [the BBC] not putting The Real McCoy out on DVD, but hopefully people won’t see that as being the end of the story,” says Nestor. “It’s not just about The Real McCoy; it’s about having quality programmes out there featuring people of colour.
“But I must say congratulations to The Voice for putting this issue on the agenda, because I’ve spoken to so many people who have been inspired by your campaign,” he added.
Let the debate continue...
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