Mr. Bean: We Must Be Allowed To Insult Each Other

from the yes,-that dept

We’ve been documenting a rather troubling trend in the UK of criminalizing comments that are insulting or in bad taste. Thankfully, some people are speaking out against such things, including comedian Rowan Atkinson — best-known internationally as Mr. Bean, but famous in the UK for characters (especially Edmund Blackadder) built on caustic wit and elaborate insults. Atkinson has stepped up and argued for the freedom to insult each other in the UK.

He criticised the “new intolerance” as he called for part of it the Public Order Act to be repealed, saying it was having a “chilling effect on free expression and free protest”.

Mr Atkinson said: “The clear problem of the outlawing of insult is that too many things can be interpreted as such. Criticism, ridicule, sarcasm, merely stating an alternative point of view to the orthodoxy, can be interpreted as insult.”

These statements came as part of a campaign to roll back laws that have allowed this to happen, with a former government official, David Davis, pointing out the key thing — you have no right not to be offended:

“The simple truth is that in a free society, there is no right not to be offended. For centuries, freedom of speech has been a vital part of British life, and repealing this law will reinstate that right.”

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Comments on “Mr. Bean: We Must Be Allowed To Insult Each Other”

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sehlat (profile) says:

They'd jail Churchill under this law.

Two examples:

Lady Astor: Winston, if you were my husband, I’d poison your tea.

Winston: My dear, if you were my wife, I would drink it.


On Aneurin Bevan: “He will be a great curse to this country in peace as he was a squalid nuisance in time of war.” and “I can think of no better step to signal the inauguration of the National Health Service than that a person who so obviously needs psychiatric attention should be among the first of its patients.”

Not an Electronic Rodent says:

Re: They'd jail Churchill under this law.

Oh you don’t need to go nearly as far back as Churchill…

“Like being savaged by a dead sheep.” – Denis Healy ,Chancellor in the late 70’s, describing an attack by Geoffrey Howe of the shadow cabinet.

“A semi-trained polecat.” – Michael Foot on Norman Tebbit in the 80’s

“The honourable member for two tube stations.” – Nicholas Fairbairn on Frank Dobson, MP for Holborn and St Pancras

“Atilla the Hen.” Clement Freud on Margaret Thatcher

“The Self-appointed king of the gutter” – Michael Heseltine on Neil Kinnock after an attack on Margaret Thatcher

“If I was in the gutter, and i ain’t, he’d still be looking up at me from the sewer.” – Kinnock on Heseltine

Rowan Atkinson is right… it would be a little hyperbolic to suggest that the erosion of free speech by nannying, dare-not-offend-anybody political correctness is destroying the UK “democracy”, but I’d say it could have a good shot at making the top 20 list.

Anonymous Coward says:

It’s illegal to offend someone by making statements about their beliefs? Well, then by all rights it should be illegal for the scientologists to come knocking at my door trying to sell their religion; I find it offensive as hell. There were a few Jehova’s Witnesses too a while back. Better get the police to track them down.

Yeah, this counter-movement is sorely needed, not just in the UK, but in every single country on the planet.

Beta (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

British comedians have already covered it.

And wasn’t there something in The Thirteen Clocks about forbidden speech? Something like:

That man was one of the Duke’s spies. The Duke has imposed a death penalty for saying the word “mittens”, so you will die tomorrow for having using it your song. But the spy will die tonight, for he must say the word “mittens” in order to report your crime… And I had better flee the city today, for I have said the word “mittens” three times!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: they've gone back to metric without tellin' us

Gods, the ignorance here is amazing.
A stone has numerous definitions
it is for example one member of a rock band
it is also a method of getting high
it is also a sibilant measure of weight with the non sibilant version equal to 907 kilograms and the sibilant being equal to 907 skilograms

Lord Binky says:

Re: Re:

Ehhh.. I beg to differ on that.

Laws are there to discourage actions, which is essentially protection.

The repercussion of breaking laws is punishment- weakening behavior because a negative condition is experienced as a consequence of the behavior.

The punishment being twisted to address not correcting the behavior, but to address improving another person?s feelings about an event makes the whole thing a muddled mess that loses sight of the original intent.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Bloody Hell

Given the world record in public cameras in UK, it seems 1984 is seen more as a roadmap than something negative.

Thought police is also active in Germany (nazi-sympathy is outlawed.)

And France has several ridiculous laws about making it illegal to deny the armenian genocide or holocaust.

European leaders have a horrible way of bending free speech to mean less, just to “protect” a minoritys feelings. Great Britain is actually one of the place I did not think the free speech denying was common.

Anonymous Coward says:

so which knob brain brought this law in? under what pretense did that knob head bring it in? what other equally as big a knob heads agreed with the one that introduced it? when the hell is this self-interested, do-gooder society gonna either come to it’s senses or leave everyone else that disagrees with it the hell alone?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I think he should be well known for both. I never understood how his fans are split into two camps. What I find so especially intriguing about him is that he practices two different fields of comedy (imho) perfectly: Mostly silent slapstick AND wordy, depp thoughtful satire. And THAT FACT should be what he should be known for.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I never understood how his fans are split into two camps.

But you’ve just explained it. Envision a Venn diagram with fans of silent slapstick in one circle and fans of wordy, deep, thoughtful satire (not to mention laced with topical references for history nerds) in the other. Do you not expect the region of intersection to be rather slight? (Personally I love Black Adder but don’t care for Bean)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Actually, I said that I can see THAT they are split, but that I can’t understand WHY. I don’t see how loving slapstick automatically means rejecting satire.

I’m not talking about fans of slapstick and fans of satire who, because of their respective preferences, merely happen to like what R.A. does.

I’m talking of fans of Rowan Atkinson.

Camp A: ‘He was so great as Blackadder, but this Bean crap is just shtoopid.’

Camp B: ‘Blockheader was nothing but hot air and big words, but Bean is ART!’

If you look at his early live shows, he has ALWAYS mixed both styles. Some skits like this, some like that. Also, why do people have to limit themselves in such a terribly narrow fashion? Comedy is an at least 20 sided die and every side has something going for it. You don’t have to LOVE them all, but I don’t see how you can’t love several of them (like slapstick, satire and plain sillyness) for their respective virtues.

So to answer your question about my expecting the intersection to be rather slight: No, I absolutely wouldn’t expect that people willingly limit themselves so severely.

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Good point – some of the live stuff where he blends it is fantastic (A Day In The Life Of The Invisible Man comes to mind)

I respect his work as Bean, and recognize its talent, and I liked it a lot as a kid. I’m glad I’ve seen all the Bean episodes here and there (and even got something of a kick out of the movie) — but as far as something with re-watch value, and something that I will actively evangelize in an attempt to get others to enjoy it, it’s Blackadder all the way.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I, for one, have only ever seen one or two episodes (probably the two ‘best of’ episodes) on the french/german channel ‘arte’.

If the BBC released the series on DVD or as downloads, I’m sure many of his fans (and fans of the other cast members, of course) would eagerly buy it. And I’d greatly prefer watching complete episodes instead of bits’n pieces on YouTube.

Didn’t it also take a whole lot of ‘lobbying’ by fans to get the BBC to finally release ‘A Bit of Fry & Laurie’ DVDs?

Lord Binky says:

Re: Are the law Retroactive?

There is zero reason for laws to be retroactive. The point of a law is to dissuade/prevent behavior, after the behavior has occurred, is punishing someone later for what was originally legal, going to change the initial behavior? Not with how Time works so far, so any reasons why you would apply punishments retroactively are not in-line with the purpose of laws.

G Thompson (profile) says:


Well the yanks only just ‘discovered’ Doctor Who, so stating that he has other characters is at least a good start. Though you might confuse em by showing that Blackadder was actually 4 different people set over 4 different periods in time/history played by the same person (Rowan) 😉 who constantly and absolutely offended everyone, and there dog.

Hmmm, maybe this UK law was made to protect Baldrick.. poor Baldrick 😉

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