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Last Updated: Monday, 3 November, 2003, 19:11 GMT
Panto dropped in racism fear
The Merton Players rehearse the pantomime
The pantomime was due to feature seven "asylum seekers"
A Devon village panto, Snow White and the Seven Asylum Seekers, has been scrapped amid fears that it could be called racist.

The village hall committee at Merton near Okehampton ordered the cast to change the name after getting advice from the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE).

But writer and producer Bob Harrod has refused, saying the panto was not racist and was sympathetic to asylum seekers.

The show featured seven asylum seekers with the names Chemical Ali, Comical Ali, Back Ali, Dark Ali, Bowling Ali, Ali G and Ali-Kiss-Angel.

In the panto they all work illegally at a quarry near Merton and live in squalor in a cottage in the woods where they are portrayed as living off baked beans and never bathing.

If someone had complained about it being offensive, then we would have been liable
Tim Horner
The village hall committee ordered Mr Harrod to change the title after taking advice from the CRE and the Devon and Exeter Racial Equality Council.

Committee chairman Tim Horner said: "One of our committee members said he thought it might be illegal.

"We followed it up, the advice came back and we asked them to change the title and remove any racial phrases, if there were any.

"I have not seen the script, but the trouble with things like this is that if someone had complained about it being offensive, then we would have been liable."

I am very sad because the village would have accepted it for what it was which was a bit of a laugh
Bob Harrod
Mr Harrod and a number of other members of the Merton Players who were putting on the show have now resigned in protest.

Mr Harrod said: "There was nothing racist about the production and we decided we were not going to be dictated to.

"The panto was quite sympathetic to asylum seekers. It was never a dig at them. It was a dig at the government.

"I am very sad because the village would have accepted it for what it was which was a bit of a laugh.

"The play was commenting on something which is reality and there is no way anyone could accuse us of being racist."

Forest animals

He added: "People have fought for free speech over hundreds of years and this is why we will not change the title. We feel it is censorship."

Devon and Exeter Racial Equality Council confirmed that, although it had not seen the panto script, it had advised the village hall committee to think about the "legal and moral implications" of allowing the panto go ahead.

Snow White was due to have been staged in the village's Clinton Hall at the end of January.

The panto was due to have a cast of 12 adults and numerous children who were going to be dressed up as forest animals.

Its villain was to have been an evil Queen and her sycophantic butler Tony, named after Tony Blair.

The Queen orders Snow White killed but she escapes into the woods where she is taken in by the asylum seekers, whose home she cleans up, before landing her prince.

Mr Horner said he was still hopeful that agreement could be found to allow the panto to be put on.

He said: "We wanted the panto to go ahead and we still want the panto to go ahead."




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Alex Bushell
"There will be no fairytale ending for the good people of Merton"



SEE ALSO:
Sharp rise in racist crime
29 Oct 03  |  Northern Ireland
Detective suspended over 'racist' comment
01 Nov 03  |  Southern Counties
Bonfire sparks complaints of racism
30 Oct 03  |  Southern Counties
Tougher asylum laws proposed
27 Oct 03  |  Politics


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