This article by Paul Donnelley appeared in The Daily Mail. It unspeakability speaks for itself . . . its defense of Nightingale is full of inaccuracies and misrepresentations.
A Horrible Histories TV sketch has been criticised by the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee for giving the impression that Florence Nightingale was racist.
Originally broadcast as part of the hit children’s CBBC history show, the sketch featured Miss Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing, and Mary Seacole, who cared for British soldiers on the battlefield during the Crimean War.
A clip from the sketch also appeared on the BBC’s Learning Zone, an educational, online resource for children.
It suggested that Miss Nightingale turned down Jamaican-born Seacole for employment.
Viewers saw the actress playing Miss Nightingale say: ‘The nursing corps was for British girls. You’re from Jamaica’ to which Seacole responded: ‘Me father was from Scotland.’
The Seacole character was also seen saying: ‘Four times me tried to join Old Lamp-Face’s nurses in the Crimean War, and four times she said no.’
The Committee ruled that the sketch breached editorial guidelines on accuracy and said that programme-makers should have done more to make it clear that it was not Miss Nightingale herself who rejected Seacole.
Seacole had, in fact, gone to Crimea to start her business and didn’t ask once for a job.
The reality is that she went to Russia in the spring of 1855 to set up a provisions store that sold luxury items (such as tinned lobster) to officers, and a restaurant and bar where they could dine and drink champagne.
It was hardly fare for rank and file soldiers.
Rather than ministering to the sick and wounded, Seacole’s main work by day was food preparation.
It said that viewers of the clip, which also showed the pair jostling, ‘would be likely to receive the overall impression that Florence Nightingale had acted towards Mary Seacole in a racially discriminatory manner’.
They would ‘be likely to regard the implied allegation of racial discrimination as established historical fact’, the Committee added.
But it said that ‘there was no evidence before it about Florence Nightingale to suggest that she had acted in a racially discriminatory manner’ and that it was ‘materially inaccurate’ to suggest that Miss Nightingale had said the nursing corps was ‘for British girls’.
It said that given Miss Nightingale’s ‘significant stature’ in modern British history, the allegation required ‘compelling proof’.
The Committee concluded that the sketch breached guidelines on accuracy, saying: ‘Given the seriousness of any imputation of racism, the relative recency of Nightingale’s life…the immensity of Nightingale’s contribution to modern nursing and her significant stature in modern British history, the Committee felt it was incumbent on the programme makers to ensure that there was sound evidence upon which to base any suggestion that she had acted in a racially discriminatory manner in a Learning Zone clip.
‘It appeared to the Committee that an allegation of such gravity against a person such as Nightingale required compelling proof. In the Committee’s view, the programme makers had provided no such evidence.’
It said that it was not trying to suggest limiting ‘the range of comedic or dramatic devices’ used in history content for children.
‘However in this very specific instance, making a charge of racism was very serious.’
It added: ‘The Committee felt in considering this particular clip and this issue, especially given that it appeared in the Learning Zone, it was important for a clear and rigorous adherence to fact, even within the context of the audience expectations for the format of Horrible Histories.’
Children’s comedy Horrible Histories began in 1993 as a series of books, written by Terry Deary, before being adapted into stage productions and a CBBC TV show.