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Friday, July 23, 1999 Published at 14:21 GMT 15:21 UK


A night of Gracious comedy

Teenage kicks: The Bhangramufins have been a hit

It started as a one-off stage show called Peter Sellers Is Dead - now the success of comedy sketch series Goodness Gracious Me is being marked with an evening of programmes on BBC Two.

Most theme nights are for long-running series, but the show only came to Radio 4 in 1996, and the team behind the hit are now working on their third TV series.

But the show has been a huge success. As well as attracting healthy audiences, it has earned a glowing leader in The Times (praising it as "the oil of race relations"), awards from the Commission for Racial Equality and pleased BBC bosses keen to serve all sections of the community.

Also - perhaps more importantly than the others - phrases like "kiss my chuddies" can be heard in playgrounds and workplaces across the country.

Earlier this year the show's performers - Meera Syal, Nina Wadiia, Sanjeev Bhaskar and Kulvinder Ghir - followed in The Fast Show's footsteps by going on a near-sell-out tour.

One-off stage show

[ image: Clockwise from top left: Kulvinder Ghir, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Meera Syal and Nina Wadia]
Clockwise from top left: Kulvinder Ghir, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Meera Syal and Nina Wadia
Goodness Gracious Me was the brainchild of former Spitting Image script editor Anil Gupta, who put his idea for an Asian sketch show to the BBC in the spring of 1995.

To help persuade the corporation's head of comedy and entertainment, Jon Plowman, he got the foursome together to perform a one-off show at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, west London.

The cast only came together five days before the show. Meera Syal was already well-known for her career as an actress, scriptwriter and novelist.

Nina Wadia had already performed on radio and TV, while Kulvinder Ghir started out doing impressions in working men's clubs in Yorkshire. Sanjeev Bhaskar, meanwhile, entered comedy after a degree in marketing and a job at IBM.

The show had the title of Peter Sellers Is Dead - designed to indicate that the days of white actors blacking up to play Asians were over.

The show went down a storm, and Plowman commissioned a series for Radio 4, which started in July 1996.

Among the show's most successful characters have been the Bhangramuffins - two streetwise teenagers who wear outsized hip-hop clothes and shout "Kiss my chuddies!" (Kiss my underpants) and "Rasmalai!" at attractive members of the opposite sex.

There is also Mr "Everything comes from India" - who is obsessed with Indian culture and claims almost everything is "Indian!"

Hunting for 'superfans'

[ image: The show has been lauded as
The show has been lauded as "the oil of race relations"
Anil Gupta, the show's producer and creator, said he was surprised when BBC Two controller Jane Root asked him to produce the special evening - but soon realised how popular it would be when they decided to hunt for "superfans" of the show.

Gupta said: "We put an ad on our Web page and we hardly got any replies. Then we put one on Ceefax and it went mental - we got about 170 e-mails, jamming our e-mail box.

"We invited them all down to Brixton, and 100 or so turned up. We quizzed them on their knowledge, got them to do impressions, and got down to our final two fans."

Gupta feels the show has been a hit because "fundamentally, it is funny". One early reviewer feared the show would be "stamped by the dead hand of tokenism" - but admitted later he had been proved wrong.

But Gupta adds: "It is also comedy from a new perspective. A lot of comedy is very white, male and middle class, but this is different, like the all-female comedy on Channel 4, Smack The Pony."

The show has hit controversy though, with some viewers feeling the show mocks religious sensibilities.

Gupta says: "I don't think we have ever crossed the line, although you can't please all of the people all of the time. I'll happily defend everything we've ever done."

Twenty years ago the Asian community were still the butt of jokes on the comedy circuit. Now with the success of Goodness Gracious Me, Gupta hopes it will tempt more Asian comics to stand up and create their own laughter.

"I hope it's getting easier, because that's certainly one of the things we were hoping to do at the start - to change people's prejudices."

Goodness Gracious Me Night is from 2100 BST on Saturday on BBC Two.

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