Ben Elton has been accused of committing an ‘awful, embarrassing’ gaffe after using the word ‘spastic’ on live TV.
The comic called disability charity Scope by its outdated former name The Spastics Society when he appeared on BBC Breakfast this morning.
His slip comes despite being a long-standing supporter of the charity, which changed its name in 1994 as the word ‘spastic’ had become an insult. Elton is hosting a Big Comedy Night benefit for Scope at the Hammersmith Apollo later this month, and was plugging it on the BBC show.
Elton, who now largely lives in Australia, told interviewer Charlie Stayt that he hadn’t appeared at the Apollo ‘since the 80s’ – unfortunately compounding the image that he was out of touch. Comic Laurence Clark, who has cerebral palsy, tweeted: ‘It really is like we’ve gone back 20 years’.
Activist Nicky Clark, who helped organise the benefit gig, responded on her blog: ‘I’m sure he wasn’t being malicious ... but obviously this slip is disappointing for many to hear. As the originator of the gig and a disability rights campaigner my position on language around disability is clear.
‘After I took the gig to Scope they included some of my original line-up and they also decided on Ben Elton as host. I'm sure Ben Elton won't be using that terminology again and that the comedy night will be successful.’
Scope also tweeted: ‘We can confirm that we've not changed our name again! See Ben Elton and others at *Scope's* Big Comedy Night. Thanks Ben for the plug, see you next week!’
The charity posted a picture of Elton at the charity's Nineties relaunch and continued: ‘We'll put that down to jet lag! He was there when we changed!
’Ben's been a huge supporter of ours for years - so we're thrilled he's involved with the comedy night! Definitely a slip!’ We're really pleased to have him headlining, even if he slipped on TV talking about it!"
Comedians Richard Herring and Francesca Martinez worked with Scope to secure the line-up, which also includes Al Murray, Doc Brown, Hal Cruttenden, Robin Ince, Milton Jones, Sally Phillips and Paul Tonkinson.
Herring tweeted that the gaffe was ‘fucking awful and embarrassing’.
Elton, 53, was also asked on the show if younger comedians view him as ‘a godfather ... or a dinosaur?’
He replied: ‘On the whole, when I meet comedians they tend to say I watched your stuff and I loved it.
‘Blackadder, of course, is very much seen as something that’s current, a lot of people talk about that and The Young Ones. I don’t think they view me as sort of gone. Just I’m a lot older and you can’t be 22 the whole time.’
Dismissing the idea of a Blackadder revival – ‘never say never, but there’s no particular appetite’ – he suggested that stand-ups now have greater licence to be controversial, adding that ‘I don’t look back on any of my material with regret.
‘[But] I regret swearing as much as I did ... there’s a nervousness that overtakes you when you’re in a live situation and you start to eff and blind and shout. And that gave the impression of being angry and assertive and it was fear driving it.’
- by Jay Richardson
- Tickets for the Big Comedy Night on May 20 are available here.