UPDATED: An episode of sitcom “Fawlty Towers” removed from a streaming site for containing “racial slurs” is to be reinstated. John Cleese had attacked the decision to remove the episode as “stupid,” as well as taking a swipe at those who take a revisionist view of history in the context of the Black Lives Matter debate.
Early on Friday, BBC-owned TV network UKTV announced on Twitter that it had temporarily removed the episode titled “The Germans” from its Gold download service as it contained “racial slurs.” The service said it wished to “review” the episode, and “consider our options.” It said some shows “carry warnings and others are edited.”
It is believed the “racial slurs” are contained in a scene in which the character known as the Major uses the N-word when referring to Caribbean sportsmen.
Later on Friday, UKTV said the episode would be reinstated “in the coming days” with the addition of “extra guidance.” “We already offer guidance to viewers across some of our classic comedy titles, but we recognize that more contextual information can be required on our archive comedy, so we will be adding extra guidance and warnings to the front of programs to highlight potentially offensive content and language. We will reinstate ‘Fawlty Towers’ once that extra guidance has been added, which we expect will be in the coming days.”
Speaking to Australian newspaper The Age, Cleese had said: “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 slammed BBC executives for yielding to pressure from protesters. “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.”
On Twitter, Cleese doubled down on his criticism of the BBC. “The BBC is now run by a mixture of marketing people and petty bureaucrats,” he wrote. “It used to have a large sprinkling of people who’d actually made programs. 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.”
Cleese also told The Age it was wrong to judge older works of art by modern standards. “The Greeks in 500 B.C. felt that culture, or any kind of real civilization, was only possible because of slavery – does that mean we should take down all the statues of Socrates?”
Cleese repeated this view on Twitter, saying he was “very confused about toppling statues.”
He added: “Similarly, the Romans enslaved the British for 400 years. So are we due reparations from the Italians? And Sir Isaac Newton was a shareholder in the South Sea Company, which included slave trading among its activities. What do we do about his statues? It’s rather complicated.”
This Tweet was met by a barrage of rebukes. Hieronymus Brock replied: “It isn’t. Our civilization is a direct beneficiary of chattel slavery. Direct. You can equivocate about other forms of slavery, but none of those were directly responsible for the privilege you/I now have or the oppression of those of color now. You’re smarter than this, sir.”
Despite his criticism of revisionism, Cleese applauded the Black Lives Matter protest movement. “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 told The Age.
“It seems to me the best parts of the George Floyd protests have been very moving and very, very powerful,” he added.
“There are looters, just as there are rogue police, but if we let our focus be on the 10% 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.”