YOU HAVE to laugh at ITV’s new edict to kill off all-male comedy writing teams. Head of comedy Saskia Schuster made the announcement after realising that the shows she works on had “an awful lot” of teams comprised of men.

“I won’t commission anything with an all-male writing team,” she announced, not smiling at all.

Schuster wants to promote diversity, and reach the point where half the comedy writers working on TV are female. That’s a laudable objective. But the strategy to achieve this is dafter than any character Jerry Lewis or Norman Wisdom created.

Comedy writing has never been about defending the patriarchy. More often than not it’s been about two blokes sitting in a flat throwing ideas back and forward while eating caramel wafers and sooking strong tea. This double male world usually features one typing while the other lays on a couch scratching his bits and trying to come up with a killer line to end the first scene, all in time for Countdown starting.

This female-free writing form has resulted in the likes of Steptoe and Son, The Likely Lads, Porridge, Dad’s Army, Are You being Served It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, and Hi-de-Hi, all classic sitcoms written by the likes of Galton and Simpson, Clement and La Frenais and Croft and Perry.

And if this new mixed writing team rule were to apply to the BBC (and it’s only a matter of seconds before it does) this would mean our own comedy duos such as Still Game’s Kiernan and Hemphill and Burnistoun’s Florence and Connell would be wasting the caramel wafer money. Two Doors Down’s creators Carlyle and Sharp would have had to squeeze an extra chair into Carlyle’s parents’ garden shed (in which the pair wrote) and hope the added voice didn’t obscure their own.

Saskia Schuster’s bosses should point out her virtue signalling is not only wrong, it’s stupid, divisive and ill-thought out.

They should underline the idea that writing success generally emerges from a connection of minds, two people on the same page, literally and figuratively, two people in love with the same idea, of how to create a character, a plot line, a set-up, gag. To impose an addition to the process – regardless of sex – is to deny the alchemy already apparent.

What Schuster is doing in demanding female representation in every comedy script submission is to create arranged marriages. But the chances of such marriages producing offspring that will become loved by a nation are slim.

There is no doubt that some of our television writing in the past has had a smear of sexism. You could argue the Pythons team could have done with the addition of a female writer to reduce the bikinis on display. But it’s also important to remember women have never been banned from writing for television; think Carla Lane, Jennifer Saunders, Victoria Wood. It’s even more important to point out the most successful comedy writers right now are female: Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge has Killing Eve and the upcoming Bond movie to her credits, Derry Girls’ creator Lisa McGhee is on her third network series. (Can you imagine the outcry if Channel Four deemed McGhee’s worked should be overseen by a male, as ITV’s boss is suggesting.)

Male-female writing teams already work, if allowed to emerge naturally, as was the case with John Cleese and Connie Booth’s Fawlty Towers, and is the case with Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney’s very funny C4 Catastrophe.

Yes, we would all love gender balance in TV writing. Last year, women wrote 28% of TV episodes. But the way to bring about balance is not to squeeze a female into the garden shed. The way forward is for television to invest in more writer workshops, encourage the likes of female writing collectives such as Glasgow’s based Witsherface,

which features the likes of Karen Dunbar.

The way forward is for teachers to show episodes of Derry Girls to 4th year pupils and say “Pay attention, girls. You too can have a career in TV writing if you can come up with something as funny as this.”

So let’s have a re-think, ITV. And bear this in mind; the sweet BBC2 sitcom success Mum was written by a man. Which tells you that being funny isn’t gender related. We can write for each other, that comedy isn’t sex prescriptive.

Look at your real failings, ITV. The likes of Love Island’s new series which already faces accusation of racism, gaslighting and now sexual harassment by a female on a male, (which if it were reversed would see the show shut down faster than you can say “Jeremy Kyle.”) It’s a show pumped full of Viagra in the form of a beautiful villa, alcohol and cash, in the hope those taking part will take each other apart and at the end of the night behave like farmyard animals.

The response to discrimination is not to discriminate against men. Let’s encourage everyone to write, especially young working class people who don’t have the connections and the hope. Do this and we’ll all be laughing.

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