Laurence Fox apologises to Sikhs for ‘clumsy’ 1917 comments

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Laurence Fox has apologised for comments he made about the inclusion of a Sikh soldier in a World War One film.

The actor had previously referred to “the oddness in the casting” of a Sikh soldier in Sir Sam Mendes’ movie 1917.

“Fellow humans who are Sikhs, I am as moved by the sacrifices your relatives made as I am by the loss of all those who die in war, whatever creed or colour,” Fox tweeted.

“Please accept my apology for being clumsy in the way I expressed myself.”

His original comments attracted widespread criticism and historians drew attention to the contribution of Sikhs in the British Army during World War One.

About 130,000 Sikh men took part in the war, making up 20% of the British Indian Army, according to the WW1 Sikh Memorial Fund.

Speaking on the James Delingpole podcast at the weekend, Fox said: “It’s very heightened awareness of the colour of someone’s skin because of the oddness in the casting.

“Even in 1917 they’ve done it with a Sikh soldier, which is great, it’s brilliant, but you’re suddenly aware there were Sikhs fighting in this war. And you’re like ‘OK, you’re now diverting me away from what the story is’.”

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Media caption“We like to say that we’re the warrior race” Kameldeep Singh Samra explains the importance of remembering the role of Sikh soldiers in the First World War

The former Lewis star also responded to Delingpole’s comments about film-makers “shoehorning” people of different ethnicities into dramas.

Fox said: “It is kind of racist – if you talk about institutional racism, which is what everyone loves to go on about, which I’m not a believer in, there is something institutionally racist about forcing diversity on people in that way. You don’t want to think about [that].’

Former Coronation Street actress Shobna Gulati responded with an image of Sikh soldiers and queried the inclusion of just one in the film.

Fox later appeared on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, where he said the film, which has 10 Oscar nominations, was a “great movie” but that the casting “felt incongruous”. He also said people “shouldn’t be afraid to say how they feel”.

Presenter Piers Morgan told Fox his comments were “insulting to solders who had served” and were “an unfortunate thing to have said” and co-host Susanna Reid added: “Sikhs fought with British forces, not just with their own regiments – it’s a historical fact.”

Morgan said he had agreed with other things Fox had said in the last two weeks, referring to the actor’s high-profile appearance on BBC One’s Question Time.

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Media captionActor Laurence Fox clashed with an audience member over whether Meghan’s treatment in the press was “racist”

The actor clashed with audience member Rachel Boyle, a university lecturer and race and ethnicity researcher, who said the way Meghan Markle had been treated in the press was “racist”.

Fox responded to her by saying: “It’s not racism, we’re the most tolerant, lovely country in Europe. It’s so easy to throw the charge of racism at everybody and it’s really starting to get boring now.”

Footage of Fox’s appearance was widely shared on social media – with some praising his comments but others calling them offensive.

The programme received more than 250 complaints, the corporation revealed in its fortnightly report for the BBC complaints service.

The main issues cited were that the “audience [was] not representative of the local area, leading to a pro-Conservative bias” and a “discussion on racism [was] felt to be offensive”.

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