The Real McCoy Makes A Welcome Return To The BBC, But Why Has It Taken 24 Years?

Michelle Martin
·5 min read

Many Black TV viewers have welcomed The Real McCoy’s return to BBC iPlayer, 24 years after it was axed.

The sitcom made history for being one of the first shows to have an entirely Black cast on national TV in a primetime slot when it aired between 1991 and 1996.

It was a show that was ahead of its time, highlighting the then emerging talent that sprung from the Black British comedy scene.

For the first time, a virtually all non-white cast and production team was given the freedom to produce a show in an unapologetically Black way. It meant a mass audience sampled the Black British experience whilst getting some serious laughs at the same time.

The Real McCoy helped launch the careers of some of the biggest names in comedy including award winning comedian Angie Le Mar, Goodness Gracious Me creator Meera Syal and comedian and broadcaster Eddie Nestor.

The weekly series also featured guest appearances from some of the biggest names on the Black entertainment scene, including Soul II Soul, footballer Ian Wright, legendary newscaster Sir Trevor McDonald and boxer Frank Bruno.

The call by fans to bring back the critically acclaimed series reached a peak in 2012 when former Arts editor at The Voice Newspaper, Davina Hamilton, started the campaign ‘Bring Back The Real McCoy’.

The cast of The Real McCoy. (Photo: The Real McCoy)
The cast of The Real McCoy. (Photo: The Real McCoy)

“I attended a BBC event to mark the 21st anniversary of the show first being aired, and it was clear from the event that there was still a huge amount of affection from fans and cast members,” Davina told HuffPost UK.

“On the back of that I decided to launch the campaign and from the response it garnered from our readers, it quickly became evident that there was a strong desire from fans to see the show re-aired or re-released on DVD.

“Sadly that never came into fruition because the BBC said they couldn’t justify the expense. And the option to re-air the show just wasn’t chosen.”

However, the timing of bringing the show back to iPlayer just weeks after the Black Lives Matter protests has not gone unnoticed by fans on social media.

Some are questioning the launch because their pleas were repeatedly ignored by the BBC after years of campaigning. There were even rumours that the tapes had been lost or destroyed.

Taking to social media platforms to voice scepticism around the BBC’s timing, some fans have asked ‘why now?’ Is it to placate social unrest following the recent Black Lives Matter protests?

But Davina says the discussions about its return had already begun before BLM.

“A BBC Insider told me a few weeks ago that the discussion to bring it back had begun some time ago,” Davina explains. “So the decision to bring it to iPlayer at this time wasn’t linked to the Black Lives Matter movement.

“I don’t think that anyone could be wronged for thinking that the timing seems convenient, particularly when you bear in mind they have been sitting in the BBC’s archives for over 25 years”.

When The Real McCoy ended in 1996, the BBC offered up very little else in terms of culturally diverse shows and by the late 90s, cable television became accessible to households and helped introduce the Black British audience to a new market.

On these outlets there was a spike in shows that had a majority Black cast, but unfortunately these were not aired on terrestrial TV, and they highlighted cultural diversity only from an African American perspective.

The Likes of Sister Sister, Moesha, My Wife and Kids and Smart Guy were received well by UK audiences, but they simply did not reflect the Black British experience.

The BBC launched another Black sitcom, The Crouches, in 2003 but it was poorly received and was axed after just two series.

The Real McCoy. (Photo: BBC)
The Real McCoy. (Photo: BBC)

The Beeb’s decision to make The Real McCoy available again after 24 years highlights how far we have regressed when it comes to cultural diversity both on screen and behind the camera. And to date they have offered little else in trying to redress the balance.

One of the show’s original cast members, Judith Jacob, has revealed that she is “thrilled” that The Real McCoy is back on our screens, but her joy is tempered by the fact “that it never revolutionised British TV as she hoped”.

Charlie Hanson, a producer on The Real McCoy, told HuffPost: “It was a shock to me and the cast to hear that our show was coming to BBC iPlayer after so long.

“It’s a series I was proud to have co created and produced, particularly as it showcased on TV for the first time, a group of young, talented Black comedy performers.

“It’s been a very long wait for all our fans that have never stopped asking to see the show again.

“The Real McCoy was a landmark series and it deserves to be discovered by new and old fans”.

The Real McCoy is available to watch on iPlayer now.


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This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.