Derry Girls creator reacts to ‘distinctively British’ claims

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Derry girls. l-r:- Orla (Louise Harland), Clare (Nicola Coughlan), Erin (Saoirse-Monica Jackson), James (Dylan Llewellyn) and Michelle (Jamie-Lee O???Donnell)

Derry Girls is set in Derry during the Troubles (Picture: Adam Lawrence)

The creator of Derry Girls has responded to Derry Girls being described as ‘distinctively British’ by former Media Minister John Whittingdale.

Speaking at the RTS Cambridge conference this week, Whittingdale said that the UK’s public service broadcasters will be required to produce ‘distinctively British’ content, saying: ‘If it’s set in Britain and made in Britain by our public service broadcasters, then it should be distinctively British.’

Examples of ‘distinctively British’ content given by the then-minister included Blackadder, Fleabag, Gogglebox and Derry Girls – the Channel 4 comedy set in Derry during the Troubles.

Whittingdale – who has stepped down as Media Minister following Boris Johnson’s reshuffle – said: ‘We want to make sure that British-made content is, in fact, distinctively “British”. I’m not talking about waving union flags and a picture of the Queen in every scene. I’m talking about continuing to make the programmes that are ours, and only ours; that could only have been made in the United Kingdom.

‘Take Derry Girls. A show that addresses the Troubles; and the rise and fall of Take That with equal passion. It could only have been made here.’

While Derry Girls is aired by Channel 4 and produced by the British company Hat Trick Productions, the cast is predominantly Irish and Northern Irish actors, with only Dylan Llewellyn, who plays James, coming from Britain.

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The show’s creator Lisa McGee is also Northern Irish, hailing from Derry herself, and said she ‘can’t be dealing’ with the show being called ‘distinctively British’.

In response to a friend sharing an article about Whittingdale’s speech, she tweeted: ‘The most ‘ Ach I can’t be dealing with this today’ headline I’ve seen about the show. And there’s been a few.’

Siobhan McSweeney, who plays Sister Michael on the show and hails from Cork, added: ‘Derry Girls is made by a British company and aired by a British channel. But it’s not a “distinctively British” programme. But what would I know?’

Many fans noted that while Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, it is distinctively Irish rather than British, and the British, particularly the English, are mocked throughout the show.

In one scene, Nicola Coughlan’s character wears a Union Jack t-shirt to ‘make a point’, with Michelle (Jamie-Lee O’Donnell) telling her: ‘Is the point “I’d like to get beaten up.”’

Michelle, who mocks her cousin James for being English, also at one point refers to the English as ‘f***ing savages’.

Even Ryanair got involved in the controversy on Twitter, with a tweet from its official account writing: ‘#DerryGirls an example of Britishness? Does that mean Gaelic Games was invented by Cromwell? What does that make us?’

Derry Girls has become Channel 4’s most successful comedy since Father Ted – another Irish comedy produced by Hat Trick Productions – and has been commissioned for a third series.


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