Daily Mail - Daily Mail Weekend Magazine

Is this the most controvers­ial comedy on TV?

BBC sitcom Citizen Khan sparked claims of racism on its debut last year. Now as it returns, creator Adil Ray answers back...

- Jenny Johnston

Actor and writer Adil Ray is full of stories about what it was like to be an Asian Muslim growing up in an area of Birmingham that was ‘quite National Front at the time’. Some of them – like the ones involving endless aunties and cousins and complicate­d trips to the mosque – are funny. Others, like the brick-throughthe-window one, are absolutely not. The curious ones, however, are those that fall into a middle ground – the ones that could go either way.

The best example involves a neighbour having a word with Adil’s father. ‘He asked Dad if he’d mind moving the extractor fan to the other side of the house “because we’re getting this smell of curry coming our way”,’ says Adil, 39. How did his dad react? ‘In a way that was typical of my father,’ he says with pride. ‘He took the man around the back of the house and pointed up to extractor fan and said, “Do you think you could point that the other way too, because we’re getting the smell of bacon and sausages and we don’t want that.” He did it in a playful way and the man laughed and they both said, “Oh well, OK, fine”, and the moment passed.’

It may have been a tiny incident at the time but his father’s reaction clearly stayed with Adil. ‘His attitude – that issues only become issues if you make them issues – takes a real strength, I think. It’s a question of not letting yourself be offended, sometimes. Being stronger than that. It’s not always easy – there are some horrible people out there. I think my Dad was right to do what he did. When we moved from that area 20 years later, the neighbours were in tears on the steps outside.’

Whether it’s apt to seek out the humour in any given situation is a question Adil has to answer on a daily basis, given his job. He is the brains behind Citizen Khan, the BBC sitcom launched last year amid much hype about it being the first British sitcom to put an Asian Muslim family centre stage. The series proved controvers­ial, with the first episode, which attracted 3.7 million viewers, resulting in 200 complaints to the BBC. Many complained that the show, which features the self-important ‘community leader’ Mr Khan – played by Adil – and his family was dated, disrespect­ful to the Koran and reinforced stereotype­s about Muslims in Britain.

Critics weren’t exactly kind either. While a few praised it, most were unimpresse­d. It was called hackneyed, unfunny and reminiscen­t of 70s sitcoms. But the show has been commission­ed for a second series and returns to our screens this month – rather vindicatin­g its creator’s belief that the British public would take the characters to its heart.

There are also rumours of a Christmas special – the irony of which is lost on no one. ‘I know there were some complaints – and those were investigat­ed – but my experience was that people loved it, and not just Asian people. The thing about Citizen Khan was it was never devised as a programme that only Asian people would watch. It was always thought of as a sitcom where the family just happened to be Asian.’

One of the scenes that sparked most complaints had Mr Khan’s heavily made-up daughter rushing to put on a hijab and pretending to be reading the Koran when her father entered the room. ‘Some felt that was disrespect­ful. But you have to weigh that up against all the others who recognised it and told me, “That’s just like my daughter or my sister.”’

What of the ‘peddling stereotype­s’ criticism? Some balked at the depiction of Mr Khan as a penny-pincher who goes to ludicrous lengths to stock up on cheap toilet paper. Funny? Or dangerous? Adil sighs. ‘People say, “Oh, it’s stereotypi­cal”, but The Royle Family was based around the stereotype of Jim Royle as a tight-fisted stick-in-the-mud. I see Mr Khan as a similar type. So they’re not Pakistani or Muslim stereotype­s, they’re a general stereotype. No one is saying Mr Khan is representa­tive of all Asian men – any more than Jim Royle’s representa­tive of all English men, or Father Ted is representa­tive of the Irish.’

Adil was born in the Midlands, to a father who had come over to Britain from Pakistan in the 1960s , a nd a mother who was born in Kenya. ‘My father would have been expected to marry a Pakistani woman, so in a way they were quite ground- breaking.’ While his father drove buses in Birmingham – one of the city’s first Asian

‘Mr Khan’s not meant to represent all Asian men’

drivers – his mother was an immigratio­n officer who sounds as far from the stereotypi­cal Asian wife as is possible. ‘She was very educated, modern – she had short hair, was very tall and glamorous and wore saris and big sunglasses and looked stunning. They were incredibly cool parents, but they’re still slightly unaware of their coolness. I think they probably see themselves as quite traditiona­l, but actually they were far more broad-minded.’

He says his love of sitcoms stemmed from watching BBC classics like Only Fools And Horses and Keeping Up Appearance­s. ‘What I remember was recognisin­g the characters. Del Boy was like my dad – a bit flash, with these high-rolled turtleneck­s. My aunt was a bit like Hyacinth Bucket.’ He doesn’t remember being offended by shows like Mind Your Language, which attempted – however crudely – to address ‘ethnic’ issues. ‘I remember watching it with the family, and we actually quite enjoyed it. You look back on it now and you go “Hmmm”, but it was an Asian on the TV and therefore we had to watch it.’

Whether the second series of Citizen Khan, with storylines that include Mr Khan attempting to get his daughter into a Church of England school, attracts as much controvers­y as the first remains to be seen. Adil has higher hopes, however. ‘The ideal for me is that there’s a family at home – a white, English family – and the wife turns to her husband and says, “See that Mr Khan, he’s just like you.” Hopefully that’s where the real success of the show will be.’

Citizen Khan, Friday, 9.30pm, BBC1.

 ??  ?? Adil (front) as Citizen Khan and (top left)
as himself
Adil (front) as Citizen Khan and (top left) as himself
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