I am writing to complain about a joke that was made in the I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue broadcast on Saturday 27 December, near the beginning, between 1’33 and 1’48” on the iPlayer recording. Part of Jack Dee’s introduction, this attack on ‘cyclists’, implying they do not know the Highway Code, was offensive, cheap and unpleasant humour to me, and to many others who I know.
I am sure you will claim that Clue is an ‘irreverent’ programme where attacks or jibes are meted out without fear or favour to all sorts of groups. Yes, the jokes following this ‘got at’ steam railway enthusiasts and UKIP supporters. But the joke against cyclists was unpleasant in a way that these, and similar jokes in the show, are not. They do not have the hostile majority-minority power-play implied that the joke against ‘cyclists’ did.
The background to this is that around 120 cyclists are killed on the roads of the UK every year and about 3,000 seriously injured (a figure that has been increasing in recent years). This is a bad record by international standards – cycling on the UK's roads is at least twice as dangerous as in some neighbouring European countries. According to statistics of police analysis of these incidents, in most cases the killed or seriously injured cyclist was not at fault and was cycling correctly and legally, and therefore most of these cyclist deaths and injuries are due to bad, illegal, and dangerous driving: that is, drivers wantonly ignoring the Highway Code. Yes, there are infringements of the Highway Code by all user-groups, but motorists have far more power to do damage than cyclists, who will in general only put themselves at risk by behaving badly on the roads. The issue is therefore the dangerous and irresponsible behaviour by those in control of powerful motor vehicles.
Unfortunately our society normalises many aspects of this behaviour, particularly the crime of speeding, and there is a mentality amongst many motorists that they have superior rights to the road compared to non-motorised users, and a culture of victimising cyclists with socially-widespread and acceptable inaccurate, prejudiced claims about their behaviour. It is right into this trap that the Clue joke about the Highway Code fell.
This kind of humour would be totally unacceptable when applied against religious or racial minorities, or other groups, such as the disabled. Cyclists have to put up with it as normality. It helps to sustain a set of attitudes in the public and official bodies that result in cases, such as the recent one of Michael Mason, a cyclist killed by a motorist on Regent Street (very close to Broadcasting house) where the driver who killed him has received absolutely no punishment despite effectively admitting full guilt and responsibility. The mythology of blaming and victimisation of cyclists excuses these deaths to our society and makes acceptable the fact that no-one is held responsible for road deaths in cases such as these, or if they are, they typically receive derisory punishment.
I expect many BBC employees cycle to work on Portland Place and Regent Street, where Michael Mason, an experienced and expert cyclist, was killed, through no fault of his own. I wonder if any cycling BBC employees had the ‘Highway Code’ joke run past them before it was broadcast. I expect the answer is no, as if it had been, the scriptwriters would have realised their error. This was an offensive joke and should not have been broadcast. This was a favourite Radio 4 programme of mine, but I expect I will not be able to enjoy it in the same way again.
I hope these thoughts have explained to you why the BBC should apologise to the cycling community, and cycling organisations, for this error of judgement.