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The woman who started the BBC's revival of 'The Real McCoy'

THEY'RE BACK: Clockwise from left - Kulvinder Ghir, Judith Jacob, the late Felix Dexter, Eddie Nestor, Robbie Gee, Meera Syal, Leo Muhammad and Llewella Gideon

IT WAS a long- fought campaign and last week, it proved victorious. At last, the BBC announced that they would be re-releasing series one of 'The Real McCoy' via their digital download service, BBC Store.

Perhaps, for the Beeb, this was simply another addition to their digital hub, which is already home to a host of their shows, including Doctor Who and Only Fools and Horses. But for those of us who championed the re-release of The Real McCoy – arguably black Britain’s most iconic comedy sketch show – it marks a sweet victory.

With this feat, we can now re-acquaint ourselves with the comedy capers of characters including Dyam Fool Man and Idiot Boy (Ishmael Thomas and Curtis Walker), and chuckle at the hilarity of the fictional breakfast show, What Time You Call This Britain, featuring the miserable Jamaican newsreader, Collette (the late Colette Johnson), and Bajan weather girl, Llewella (Llewella Gideon).

We can do this knowing that it was us – our people power – that made it possible.

It was back in 2012 that The Voice kick-started our Bring Back The Real McCoy campaign.


CATALYST: Ex-Voice Entertainment Editor Davina Hamilton

The catalyst was an enthralling panel event hosted by the BBC to mark the 21st anniversary of the series first being aired. Held at BBC Radio Theatre in central London, An Audience With The Real McCoy featured a panel of the show’s stars: Curtis Walker, Leo Muhammad, the late Felix Dexter, Judith Jacob, Meera Syal and Kulvinder Ghir, along with the show’s producer Charlie Hanson, director Terry Jervis and producer Paulette Randall.

The event was, of course, a celebration of the beloved series, which first aired on BBC Two in 1991 and ran for five successful series. But it also prompted a number of questions from the invited audience – people who wanted to know why The Real McCoy had never been released on DVD or re-aired on any of the BBC’s channels. The panel themselves couldn’t hide their frustration, with Felix Dexter saying the Beeb seemed to give “no recognition that the show ever existed”.

CAMPAIGN

Frankly, I left the event with a bee in my bonnet. A die-hard Real McCoy fan, I returned to work and told my Voice colleagues I wanted us to drive a campaign that urged the BBC to Bring Back The Real McCoy.

What followed left me inspired. If I’d ever been tempted to believe the stereotype that black people moan but never campaign, this initiative would have quashed my thinking. Following the initial article I wrote in May 2012, urging people to email myself and the BBC if they wanted to see the return of The Real McCoy, my inbox was flooded.


HOPE: A former chief creative officer at the BBC, Patrick Younge

“I’ve just read your article on potentially reviving The Real McCoy, and think it would be brilliant,” one email read.

“I have many fond memories of sitting with my parents and siblings as a young boy watching it on a Friday night.”

Another Voice, reader said:

“It’s almost a crime not to bring The Real McCoy back. It showcased such brilliant writing. We just want jokes – our own kinda jokes.”

The emails kept coming – and coming. With this, The Voice got in touch with Patrick Younge, the BBC’s then chief creative officer of vision productions.

“People have been emailing me so clearly, [The Voice campaign] had had an impact,” Younge told us.

Asked if there was any chance of the BBC re-airing the series, he said:

“It’s something we’re looking into as part of what we do."

There was hope. A return of The Real McCoy was a possibility. We reported this news to our readers and continued to drive the campaign. The emails continued filling up my inbox.


FUN TIMES: L-R The late Collette Johnson with fellow Real McCoy actress Llewella Gideon

Further optimism was unearthed when a BBC spokesperson dismissed the rumour that the series had been lost.

“I can confirm The Real Mc- Coy hasn’t been wiped,” the spokesperson said.

Again, there was more hope.

So it came as a huge blow to the campaign when, a few months later, 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.”

It was a major disappointment. But it didn’t stop us from churning out the articles that held the BBC to account for its lack of black-interest programming. After all, part of the reason so many in our community longed for a revival of The Real McCoy – a series that was two decades old – was because the Beeb had failed to satisfy us with anything new.

Fast-forward to April 2016 and there was light at the end of the tunnel: a BBC spokesperson told The Voice that re-running the series “is something we are currently look- ing into for our digital service BBC Store”.

Just under a year later, that which the BBC were then “looking into” has now, finally, come to fruition. The first series of The Real McCoy is now available to purchase as a digital download.

I received the news from a BBC rep via email, a day before it was made public.

“After all your hard work campaigning for it, I thought you deserved to know in ad- vance of it becoming public knowledge,” the email read.

I was chuffed. But this was far more than a personal victory. The Voice campaign would have been non-existent had it not been for your support, your emails, your Facebook messages, your Tweets – your ongoing efforts to champion the return of a programme that, despite coming off-air in 1996, remains so close to our hearts.

Additionally, this re-release will potentially introduce The Real McCoy to a new generation of viewers.
Younger audiences will now be able to enjoy this enduring comedy and also see how it successfully and authentically portrayed elements of black culture, entertaining and often educating us along the way.

I quickly got in touch with The Real McCoy’s producer, Charlie Hanson. He, too was pleased that a long-fought campaign had proved successful.

“People have been asking me for years [when the show would be re-released],” Hanson told me.

“Now, at last I can tell them where to find it. Thanks to you, The Voice and all the fans who have campaigned for so long.”

Well done to us all – here’s to people power. Now, be sure to head to BBC Store to purchase series one. Prove that the demand for the programme is there. After all, series two, three, four and five haven’t been made available – yet.
Let the campaign continue...

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