Fawlty Towers: John Cleese hits out at ‘stupid’ removal of episode | Ents & Arts News
John Cleese has criticised the removal an episode of Fawlty Towers from a streaming service over repeated use of racist language, calling the decision “stupid”.
UKTV, which is BBC-owned, said it had temporarily pulled well-known episode The Germans from its service while it carries out a review.
In response, Cleese – who co-wrote and starred in the comedy series – has accused executives of attempting to “pacify” people in a bid to “hang on to their jobs”.
The episode in question first aired in 1975, and shows character Major Gowen repeatedly using the N-word in reference to members of the West Indies cricket team, while also referring to Indians as “w***”.
Cleese, 80, told The Age newspaper: “If you put nonsense words into the mouth of someone you want to make fun of you’re not broadcasting their views, you’re making fun of them.
“The major was an old fossil left over from decades before. We were not supporting his views, we were making fun of them.
“If they can’t see that, if people are too stupid to see that, what can one say?”
He said there was a “really admirable feeling that we must make our society less discriminatory”, but went on: “A lot of the people in charge now at the BBC just want to hang on to their jobs.
“If a few people get excited they pacify them rather than standing their ground as they would have done 30 or 40 years ago.”
A UKTV spokesman said: “UKTV has temporarily removed an episode of Fawlty Towers, The Germans, from Gold’s Box Set.
“The episode contains racial slurs so we are taking the episode down while we review it. We regularly review older content to ensure it meets audience expectations and are particularly aware of the impact of outdated language.
“Some shows carry warnings and others are edited. We want to take time to consider our options for this episode.”
The episode is best known for the scene in which Basil Fawlty, played by Cleese, is shown goose-stepping while shouting “don’t mention the war” in front of a group of German tourists.
The scene had been edited out of repeats shown on the BBC in 2013, after the issue was raised and Cleese’s representatives were consulted.
At the time of the scene’s removal, the corporation said in a statement to the Daily Mail: “Public attitudes have changed significantly since it was made and it was decided to make some minor changes, with the consent of John Cleese’s management, to allow the episode to transmit to a family audience at 7.30pm on BBC2.”
Despite its popularity, the series set in a dysfunctional hotel in Torquay, Devon only ever made 12 episodes, spread across two series in 1975 and 1979.
Last year, it was named the “greatest-ever British TV sitcom” by a panel of experts.
HBO Max has temporarily removed 1939 civil war epic Gone With The Wind because of its “racial depictions”, and iPlayer removed Little Britain following complaints about the use of blackface in some of its sketches.
It comes amid protests led by the Black Lives Matter movement which began in the US but have spread around the world.
The protests were prompted by the death of George Floyd, a black man killed when a white police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes.
Race and Revolution: Is Change Going to Come?
Sky News will broadcast a global debate show on Tuesday night at 8pm – looking at the issues raised by the Black Lives Matter protests, and examining institutional racism and how we fix it.
If you would like to be part of our virtual audience, and have a chance of putting a question to our panel, please send your name, location and question to email@example.com.