Meera Syal: TV has gone backwards in portraying British Asians

Actress and writer Meera Syal says British TV has gone “slightly backwards” in its portrayal of British Asians partly because of a “conservative climate” in programming.

The broadcaster, 55, also hinted that her former ensemble comedy sketch show Goodness Gracious Me might be ripe for a return but said it could only work now in a different format.

Asked if British TV had progressed for being Asian in Britain, the Wolverhampton-born star told the Radio Times that she did not think so.

She said: “I think we’ve slightly gone backwards. Some of the stuff I’d want to have on TV wouldn’t get on at the moment.

“It’s a conservative climate with lots of period pieces and lots of nostalgia.

“When people think of stuff with South Asians in, it tends to be programmes like the upcoming Rochdale abuse drama (BBC One’s Three Girls).

“Of course, it’s not like those things don’t happen but, if that’s all that TV is doing, it looks like that’s the only thing Asians do.

“It’s a problem. If there were five or six or seven shows on TV featuring South Asians, then absolutely Rochdale is a worthy subject to investigate – but it’s about context.”

Meera, who will appear in Radio 2′s new production Parental Guidance from March 13, said she would like to see more stories that “show us as people” and not just focusing on the issues involving British Asians.

Meera, whose parents moved to the UK from New Delhi, India, said she would like to see Britain follow American TV in terms of ethnic diversity.

She said: “In theatre there’s lots of cross-gender casting, like Tamsin Greig playing Malvolio in Twelfth Night at the National.

“And in Elementary, the US version of Sherlock Holmes, Watson is played by an Asian American (Lucy Liu).

“It would be nice if it happened a bit more in Britain because it can unlock something terrific.”

Meera’s hit Goodness Gracious Me, which ran from 1998 to 2001 on BBC Two after originally airing on Radio 4, was something that “could well happen” again, she said.

“We don’t want to redo something for the sake of it but we’re discussing something,” Meera said.

“We’d like to bring our brand of humour back but in a different format. We have to be confident we’ve got the material and I think we have.

“We’re gathering it. That could well happen.”

This week’s issue of Radio Times is on sale now.

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