Now Mary Poppins is racist! Is there ANYTHING left that people are not offended by? – SIMON CARTER

Mary Poppins, complete with soot on face, in the 1964 film
Mary Poppins, complete with soot on face, in the 1964 film

Where will it end? Is there anything left that people are not offended by in this, the second decade of the 21st century?

Obviously not. Why, only last weekend an American Professor claimed Mary Poppins was racist after watching one of the scenes in the film. No, not the current film, the one starring Dame Julie Andrews that came out in 1964.

Lauren Steadman (left) and Danny John-Jules, right, with Lauren Steadman at the launch of Strictly Come Dancing 2018.

Lauren Steadman (left) and Danny John-Jules, right, with Lauren Steadman at the launch of Strictly Come Dancing 2018.

And why, only last weekend, Simon Cowell's ITV show The Greatest Dancer was caught up in a racism row because, out of the nine finalists, only one was black.

I wish to God I was making this stuff up, but I'm not. Equality campaigner Trevor Phillips, speaking about The Greatest Dancer, said: 'No person of colour will be surprised about this – it's business as usual. It has become a joke. The first people to get voted off are always black.'

Phillips' comments followed claims of racial bias on Strictly Come Dancing, with 2018 contestant Danny John-Jules saying: 'They always get rid of the black guy first.'

John-Jules and Phillips would be worth listening to, if they were right. But they're not, and far from it.

Only Fools and Horses - some of the early episodes would send Twitter into partial meltdown today

Only Fools and Horses - some of the early episodes would send Twitter into partial meltdown today

There's been 16 series of Strictly Come Dancing and in how many of them do you think a black person has been voted off first? Based on John-Jules' comments, you'd think probably a lot. Answer - three.

Yes, Chizzy Akudolu was first off in 2017 and, yes, Melvin Odoom was first off 12 months earlier. But prior to that, only Goldie (2010) had 'suffered' the same fate. Now I'm no dancing expert - I would prefer to stick pins in my eyes than sit through an episode of Strictly - but I'm guessing those people were voted off first because they weren't very good. I can believe many things but I refuse point blank to consider there are people out there voting on the colour of one's skin. Yes, I am sure racism exists in this country - casual racism as well as overt racism - but not perpetrated by the audiences that watch Saturday night TV.

Let's look at another popular TV programme, I'm A Celebrity. Ok, a black person has never won since the programme started in 2002 but no black person has ever been voted off first either. A quick look at some of the names of those who have been booted off at the earlier possible opportunity - Noel Edmonds, Uri Geller, Nadine Dorries, Sheryl Gascoigne, Robert Kilroy-Silk - tells you what you need to know. They went first because they were the least liked in the programme. There are some particularly annoying individuals among that list, are there not?

Let’s move onto Dancing On Ice. A black person has been eliminated first in two out of 10 completed series - Sinitta and Andy Akinwolere. Trevor Phillips’ comments are not standing up, are they?

The Fawlty Towers cast - some of the language and stereotypes from the mid 1970s would be unacceptable today

The Fawlty Towers cast - some of the language and stereotypes from the mid 1970s would be unacceptable today

Look, I don't like the guy but you can't accuse Simon Cowell of being a racist, surely? He dated Sinitta and regularly has black judges on his shows. My girlfriend made me sit through the last X-Factor final and there was a black man, a white man and a white woman in the final. The black man (Dalton Harris) won, and he won for one good reason - his was the best performance.

Britain's Got Talent is also massively popular, and look - a black artist (Tokio Myers) won that programme in 2017. So, in the last three combined series of BGT and X-Factor, a black man has won two of them. Simon Cowell may have released a torrent of blandness upon the charts since the X-Factor began, but he is not involved in racist programmes.

I cannot believe that those involved in the original Mary Poppins film were either, but Professor Daniel Pollack-Pelzner’s Warholian 15 minutes of fame arrived when he criticised the iconic scene where Mary Poppins joins Dick Van Dyke's character Bert to dance on a rooftop for the classic song Step in Time. Where is the problem, you ask? Well, the problem is that Mary had a 'sooty' face. As such, it was a racist moment. The fact that Mary had soot on her face from going up the inside of a chimney was seemingly immaterial. The Prof wrote: 'Instead of wiping it (the soot) off, she gamely powders her nose and cheeks even blacker.'

One brief scene from one film, and our Mary is now a racist. This is what it's come to. Read it and weep.

The trouble is, in this soundbite society we live in, some people might take comments from the likes of Trevor Phillips and Danny John-Jules and believe them, when the reality is startlingly different. There is enough fake news out there as it is, without people who should know better bitterly pouring fuel onto the inferno.

Where does Phillips' argument end, I wonder? Are we now living in a society where x amount of the finalists in any one programme HAVE to be black? What about other ethnic races? There are more than twice as many Asians or British Asians in England than black or British blacks, so surely they need to be even better represented on our screens?

Times have changed, of course they have. Once upon a time the Black and White Minstrel Show ran for 6,477 shows at the same London theatre, from 1962 until 1972. The Minstrels’ first album, in 1960, became the first in UK history to pass 100,000 sales. But that was then, and this is now - and there is a reason those shows will never appear on our tv screens again.

Ditto the likes of It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, recently back in the news following the death of Windsor Davies. Those shows feature a blacked-up white actor and the word ‘pooftahs’. Nobody was offended back in the 1970s, but they are now and have been for some time. That is why those programmes haven’t been repeated on mainstream tv since 1984 - two years after the last series.

Ditto the language of Alf Garnett, very much of its time and unsuitable for today’s television schedules without the addition of several ‘bleeps’. But only by understanding the times in which it was written and performed, can we begin to fully appreciate the advances in society that have been made.

Fawlty Towers is routinely voted the greatest sitcom of all time, yet how would social media deal with a script like ‘The Germans’ today, or some of the Major’s language? Not well, I guess. But ‘The Germans’ first aired in 1975. Of course so much - attitudes, language, racial stereotypes - has changed in society since then. We are far more tolerant, far more inclusive, far more intelligent even, since 1975.

I received the Only Fools and Horses DVD box set for Christmas, and it is almost taken for granted today that a) David Jason is a national treasure and b) the antics of Del Boy, Rodney (‘alright, Dave?’) and co remain one of the best sitcoms of all time

Looking back at several of the episodes from the first three or four series (1981-85), however, there are scenes - and language - which would send some members of the Twitterati on their way to meltdown. I wait for the ‘Derek Trotter was a racist’ thesis from an American Professor.

David Jason’s great friend, the legendary Ronnie Barker, also possesses a special place in the heart of UK comedy. But who remembers the fact he played someone with a stutter? We laughed at Arkwright in Open All Hours in the 70s, and we sympathised with Gareth Gates’ battle against his communication disorder in the early noughties. Times don’t always change for the better, but quite often they do and that is one example.

Ronnie Barker, lest we forget, also once performed a ‘blackface’ routine with Ronnie Corbett in the early 70s - a pastiche of the Minstrels. It is cringe-worthy to watch now, but the two Ronnies were hardly two racists.

It is not cringe-worthy to watch Dame Julie Andrews with some soot on her face in Mary Poppins, though. And there is a problem if we think it is ...