THERE’S a scene in the film Funny Cow, set in 1970s northern clubland, where a stand-up comic raises a laugh, in a cloud of cigarette smoke, with a couple of gags that are ‘of their time’.

Today they would be classed as racist and homophobic jokes, and I winced hearing them out loud. But I was glad the film-makers didn’t cop out of portraying the reality of a working men’s club of nearly half a century ago. The scene would have lost all credibility if approached from a present-day perspective.

I remember such comics being on telly when I was a child in the Seventies. Mainstream entertainment was different back then. It doesn’t make it right - it’s just the way it was. We can’t airbrush the past to suit our 21st century sensibilities.

We are conditioned, when looking back, to be outraged about language and behaviour that is no longer acceptable. We smirk at the dated camera-work, our jaws drop at the casual sexism of saucy sitcoms, we can’t believe newsreaders had comb-over hair and wore beige suits, or that people smoked on talk shows.

I recently watched some old telly clips on YouTube with my teenage niece who was bemused by the clipped vowels and creepy public information films my generation grew up with. It’s a world I remember well, but it’s alien to her.

It was, as we often say, a different time. That doesn’t excuse terrible behaviour by former national treasures that took years to come to light, or other unpleasant aspects of the era, but we can’t fully understand the past by applying the social mores of today.

A year or so ago Channel 4 ran a mildly amusing but mostly irritating show called It Was Alright in the 1970s in which hipster millennials balked at clips of sitcoms, quiz shows, news reports, dramas and adverts reflecting the tastelessness, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia of Seventies TV. I found their outrage patronising ultimately misplaced. It seems so arrogant to ridicule the past because it offends us or doesn’t fall in line with our modern standards.

It goes without saying that society has moved on and our idea of what is and isn’t socially acceptable has changed, mostly for the better. But we can’t whitewash what went before.

The same applies to attempts to discredit some public figures from history who, it turns out, weren’t perfect after all. The heroic status of Churchill has come under fire because of his actions as a military officer and his views on eugenics. Born into privilege in the late 1800s, educated at Harrow and trained at Sandhurst, it’s hardly surprising he was a champion of the British Empire. But without him, 20th century history would have taken a different path.

The world has been shaped by flawed people. There have been many monarchs, military leaders, presidents, human rights campaigners, intellectuals and sporting heroes who had weaknesses or battled their own demons. None of them were saints. To learn from history, and our recent past, we have to put people and events into context. We think we know best, in our enlightened times, but one day we too will be history, and the world will again be a very different place.

And the know-all hipsters on Channel 4 clip shows will look as dated as the beige-suited, combed-over newsreaders of yesteryear.