Fawlty Towers: John Cleese hits back at ‘stupid’ decision to remove episode from UKTV

Actor insisted show was a critique of racist attitudes rather than an endorsement of them

Ellie Harrison
Friday 12 June 2020 14:37
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Fawlty Towers racial slur controversy

John Cleese has condemned UKTV’s decision to remove an episode of Fawlty Towers from its platform, calling it “stupid”.

The famous “don’t mention the war” episode of the classic 1970s sitcom was taken down because it contains “racial slurs”.

Titled “The Germans”, 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 shows the Major Gowen character using offensive language about the West Indies cricket team.

In response to its removal, Cleese has labelled people who failed to see it as a critique of racist attitudes rather than an endorsement of them as “stupid”.

“One of the things I’ve learned in the last 180 years is that people have very different senses of humour,” he told The Age. “Some of them understand 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.”

Speaking about the Major character, played by Ballard Berkeley, who uses the N-word three times while telling a story about a Test match featuring the West Indies, Cleese added: “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?

Fawlty Towers has given a large number of people a great deal of happiness, why would you want to stop that?”

Cleese also criticised BBC management for bowing to pressure to remove “problematic” TV shows amid the global Black Lives Matter protests. “A lot of the people in charge now at the BBC just want to hang onto their jobs,” he said. “If a few people get excited, they pacify them rather than standing their ground as they would have done 30 or 40 years ago.”

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The actor expressed his support for the aims of Black Lives Matter, but argued that the debate around problematic TV shows is misplaced energy in the fight against racism.

“At the moment there is a huge swell of anger and a really admirable feeling that we must make our society less discriminatory, and I think that part of it is very good,” he said.

“It seems to me the best parts of the George Floyd protests have been very moving and very, very powerful.

“There are looters, just as there are rogue police, but if we let our focus be on the 10 per cent who are always trying to f*** everything up, we might forget that what it’s really about is trying to behave a bit more kindly towards everyone.”

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

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