David Walliams accused of racism over children’s book character Raj the Indian shopkeeper who comically mangles the English language.
His books have sold millions since he embarked on his second career and became one of Britain’s best-loved children’s authors.
But TV comic David Walliams has been engulfed by a racism storm over his depiction of Asian shopkeeper Raj in his stories.
Last night critics rejected the accusation as another example of pointless political correctness.
Author and education expert Toby Young said: ‘There seems to be a whole army of politically correct do-gooders in contemporary Britain who are always on the lookout for things to get worked up about. But no Indian shopkeeper will be offended by Raj.’The row echoes the recent furore over The Simpsons’ Indian immigrant shopkeeper Apu, which led to the character being dropped.
Raj is known for his canny way with money – trying to sell items past their sell-by date – and comically mangles the English language.
In Walliams’s book Bad Dad, Raj says: ‘I am not a bad man. I just use best-before dates as a very rough guide, rounding them up to the nearest decade!’And in Grandpa’s Great Escape, Raj cannot say the main character’s surname Bunting – pronouncing it ‘Bumting’ instead.
He was played by Harish Patel in the BBC1 adaptation of Walliams’s The Midnight Gang, which was shown on Boxing Day. Walliams also appeared, playing the headmaster.
The Raj character was condemned by Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of Muslim rights group the Ramadhan Foundation.He said: ‘It’s a stereotypical character. To target a community and suggest that community’s shopkeepers are involved in selling out-of-date food is deeply unacceptable. It’s distasteful. In most cases these shopkeepers have been the fabric of their community for decades and I am uncomfortable with that joke.
‘I’d love to have a conversation with David Walliams about it just to understand what his rationale is.’
Veteran anti-fascist campaigner Gerry Gable, editor of Searchlight magazine, said: ‘Walliams is planting in kids’ minds that Asian shopkeepers are villains or not to be trusted. The whole stereotyping is disgraceful. It’s the same kind of stereotyping you would have seen in anti-Semitic literature before the war about Jews cheating in business. I find it really alarming.’
But Toby Young said: ‘The people shouting “racist” are nearly always white, privately educated Lefties who’ve appointed themselves moral guardians. Raj ignores sell-by dates and tries to rip off his customers, but those aren’t things people associate with Indian shopkeepers. Those are just characteristics David Walliams has given him for comic purposes.’
It’s not the first time Walliams has been caught up in a racism storm.
He starred with Matt Lucas in the sketch show Little Britain, which came under fire for characters such as Thai mail-order bride Ting Tong. A 2008 report condemned the series for jokes that ‘pander to prejudice’.
And last year Walliams was accused of ‘yellow-facing’ after dressing up as North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un for a Halloween party.
Walliams and his publishers HarperCollins declined to comment