John Cleese Condemns BBC Over 'Cowardly' Decision To Remove Fawlty Towers Episode

Co-writer and star argues move was driven by "marketing people and petty bureaucrats".

John Cleese has blasted the BBC for removing an episode of classic 1970s sitcom Fawlty Towers from one of its streaming services as the comedian labelled the decision “cowardly”.

The famous “don’t mention the war” episode was removed because it contains “racial slurs” said UKTV, which is owned by BBC Studios.

It said it had temporarily made The Germans unavailable while it carries out a review.

Cleese, who co-wrote and starred in the show, claimed the publicly-funded organisation was run by a “mixture of marketing people and petty bureaucrats” whose main concern was “not losing their jobs”.

The episode first aired in 1975 and sees Cleese’s misanthropic hotel owner Basil Fawlty goose-stepping around 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.

According to reports, Major Gowen’s scenes had already started to be edited out by some broadcasters.

Cleese wrote on Twitter: “I would have hoped that someone at the BBC would understand that there are two ways of making fun of human behaviour.

“One is to attack it directly. The other is to have someone who is patently a figure of fun, speak up on behalf of that behaviour.”

He went on to compare the situation with that of Alf Garnett, the racist character in sitcoms Till Death Us Do Part and In Sickness and in Health.

“We laughed at Alf’s reactionary views. Thus we discredited them, by laughing at him,” Cleese wrote.

“Of course, there were people - very stupid people - who said ‘Thank God someone is saying these things at last’. We laughed at these people too. Now they’re taking decisions about BBC comedy.”

He continued: “But it’s not just stupidity. The BBC is now run by a mixture of marketing people and petty bureaucrats. It used to have a large sprinkling of people who’d actually made programmes. Not any more.

“So BBC decisions are made by persons whose main concern is not losing their jobs... That’s why they’re so cowardly and gutless and contemptible. I rest my case.”

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 removal comes amid a re-energised debate on how best to deal with parts of well-known films and TV shows that are now deemed offensive by portions of modern audiences.

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

HBO Max temporarily removed 1939 civil war epic Gone With The Wind because of its “racial depictions”.

Little Britain had been removed from iPlayer because “times have changed” since the comedy first aired.

The series, starring David Walliams and Matt Lucas, has come under fire recently because of the use of blackface in some sketches.

Since then, Netflix has also removed a number of other comedy shows worldwide, including The League Of Gentlemen and much of comedian Chris Lilley’s back catalogue.


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