Racist name of Dam Busters dog will not be censored in 75th anniversary screenings

British Board of Film Classification has upgraded classic war movie’s warning rating over ‘discriminatory language’

Chris Baynes
Thursday 17 May 2018 17:55 BST
Theatrical trailer for Dambusters movie

The racist name of a dog in The Dam Busters will not be censored in new screenings of the 1955 film, which has been restored to mark the 75th anniversary of the mission it depicts.

The classic British movie features a black Labrador called N****r, a mascot of the RAF 617 squadron, whose pilots dropped Barnes Wallis’s “bouncing bomb” on German dams during the Second World War.

The dog’s name led the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) to toughen the film’s rating from U to PG last month ahead of screenings in 400 cinemas across the country.

The regulator said the stricter classification was intended to “send a clearer warning to parents that the film contains discriminatory language of a nature that will be offensive to many”.

The name has previously been censored for TV broadcasts, while some American versions have used dubbing to edit the dog’s name to Trigger.

There are also plans to rename the labrador in Peter Jackson’s long-awaited remake.

But StudioCanal, the distributor of Michael Anderson’s 1955 original, confirmed it would play unedited at the anniversary screenings.

“While we acknowledge some of the language used in The Dam Busters reflects historical attitudes which audiences may find offensive, for reasons of historical accuracy we have opted to present the film as it was originally screened,” it said in a statement.

The dog, RAF wing commander Guy Gibson’s pet, features regularly in the film. His name, taken from Gibson’s real-life labrador, becomes a plot device when it is is adopted by the squadron as a codeword for a key bombing target.

Wing commander Guy Gibson (front right) and the RAF 617 Squadron crew with his dog, N****r

Stephen Fry, who has written the screenplay for Jackson’s remake, said in 2011 that the dog would be renamed in his script. He told the BBC there was “no question in America that you could ever have a dog called the N-word”.

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He added: “It’s no good saying that it is the Latin word for black or that it didn’t have the meaning that it does now – you just can’t go back, which is unfortunate.

“In the film, you’re constantly hearing ‘N-word, N-word, N-word, hurray’ and Barnes Wallis is punching the air. But obviously that’s not going to happen now. So Digger seems OK, I reckon.”

Work began on Jackson’s film more than a decade ago, but the project has since stalled.

Anderson’s The Dam Busters has been given a high-definition 4K restoration ahead of its cinematic re-release this week. As part of the screenings, TV historian Dan Snow will explore the history of the RAF’s 1943 attacks on the Mohne, Eder, and Sorpe dams in Nazi Germany.

Snow will be joined by relatives of both the film’s crew and the original 617 Squadron for a live event broadcast via satellite from the Royal Albert Hall.

The squadron’s last surviving British member, George “Johnny” Johnson, shared his delight ahead of the film’s return to the big screen and the wider commemorations planed for the anniversary of the raids.

He said: “I think it’s wonderful. I shall be most grateful for the opportunity to watch it but also to take part in this tremendous presentation to start with. That raid is stuck in my mind and it is as vivid today as it was 75 years ago. To see it represented in this wonderful arrangement to me means more than anything else.”

Asked how accurately the film depicted the actual events, he praised the performance of actor Michael Redgrave as the bouncing bomb’s creator Wallis.

Johnson said: “I was pleased to see there wasn’t too much of this ‘hail-fellow-well-met’ sort of attitude. It was well portrayed. I think Michael Redgrave as Barnes Wallis was a wonderful representation of a wonderful man. And Barnes Wallis’s daughter Mary quite agrees with that.”

Johnson also shared his memories of wing commander Gibson, who led 617 Squadron through Operation Chastise.

“His true leadership was in the attack situation,” he said. “He made the first attack on the Mohne dam. Not only was he dropping his bomb, he was assessing its defence. As he called each aircraft in, he flew alongside them. That to me says ‘you’re doing this, I’m doing this, we’re doing it together’.

“It is the essence of a good leader in the attack situation. But he was very difficult to get on with outside of that.”

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