Channel 4 in Britain is not going ahead with a situation comedy set around the Irish Famine, the channel has told IrishCentral.com. One million Irish died and one million Irish emigrated during the Great Hunger.
The proposal to do a Famine comedy, put forward by Irish writer Hugh Travers, caused enormous controversy among Irish in Ireland, Britain and the United States.
In an email to IrishCentral, which was first to highlight the issue, Donna Matthews, Group Publicity Manager for Channel 4, stated that “there were no plans to air it,” and that “We were very clear a year ago about Hugh Traver’s script, that this was a script commission – not a pilot or a series.” “Nothing's changed,” she concluded.
Forty thousand protesters signed a petition asking that the series not go ahead as the Irish Famine was not a fit topic for comedy. Only 100 or so signed a counter position.
Demonstrations were held outside Channel 4 by a small number of Irish protesters based in Britain.
When asked why he chose the Famine topic, Travers told The Irish Times that Hungry occurred after Channel 4 saw one of Travers’s other scripts and handed him an open commission for a sitcom. “Any idea I wanted – which was a massive opportunity and at the same time, seriously daunting,” he said.
Why did he choose the famine? “Well, they say ‘comedy equals tragedy plus time’,” he said.
“I don’t want to do anything that denies the suffering that people went through, but Ireland has always been good at black humor. We’re kind of thinking of it as ‘Shameless’ in famine Ireland.”
His own website still describes him as working on a Famine script but obviously not for Channel 4.
Eminent historian Tim Pat Coogan had taken grave exception to the idea of a Famine sitcom.
“Murder, genocide, people dying, retching with their faces green from eating weeds, their bowels hanging out of them – no passage of time will make that funny,” Coogan stated.
Irish Times TV critic Donald Clarke defended the right to show a Famine comedy.
“No subject should, however, be off limits to comedy. The flawed assumption running through the furious editorials is that all humor ‘makes light’ of its core subject. This is patent nonsense,” he wrote.