Entertainment TV John Cleese slams ‘cowardly and gutless’ BBC over removal of Fawlty Towers episode

John Cleese slams ‘cowardly and gutless’ BBC over removal of Fawlty Towers episode

John Cleese and the cast of Fawlty Towers. Photo: AAP
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John Cleese has blasted the BBC over the removal of an episode of classic 1970s sitcom Fawlty Towers from its streaming service, UKTV.

The famous “don’t mention the war” episode was removed because it contains “racial slurs”.

Cleese told The Age newspaper that “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 he was less than complimentary about the decision-makers who who had removed the episode, albeit temporarily.

“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.”

The episode first aired in 1975 and sees Cleese’s misanthropic hotel owner Basil Fawlty goose-stepping while shouting “don’t mention the war” in front of a group of visiting Germans.

It also contains scenes showing the Major Gowen character using offensive language about the West Indies cricket team.

UKTV temporarily made The Germans unavailable while it carried out a review.

It has subsequently announced it was reinstating the episode, but guidance and warnings highlighting “potentially offensive content and language” will appear.

UKTV said “we recognise that more contextual information can be required on our archive comedy, so we will be adding extra guidance and warnings to the front of programmes to highlight potentially offensive content and language”.

“We will continue to look at what content is on offer as we always have done.”

“We regularly review older content to ensure it meets audience expectations and are particularly aware of the impact of outdated language,” a UKTV spokesman said.

“We want to take time to consider our options for this episode.”

As the Black Lives Matter movement has returned to prominence following the death of George Floyd, broadcasters and streaming services have re-evaluated their content.

HBO Max temporarily removed 1939 civil war epic Gone with the Wind because of its “racial depictions” and sketch series Little Britain had been taken down from iPlayer after come under fire recently because of the use of blackface in some sketches.

Netflix has removed four comedy shows featuring Australian performer Chris Lilley from its platform in Australia and New Zealand due to the controversial depiction of some characters.

-with agencies