Actor John Cleese condemns pulling of 'Fawlty Towers' episode over 'racial slurs'

Filed on June 13, 2020
Fawlty Towers, racism, John Cleese, comedy, television, England

The popular comedy series ran from 1975-1979.

One of classic comedy Fawlty Towers' most famous episodes - "The Germans" - was taken off UK screens on Friday because of "racial slurs", as anti-racism protests gathered pace.

The decision by UKTV sparked an online debate and drew a furious condemnation from lead actor John Cleese who said the episode had been completely misunderstood, and the BBC-owned streaming service later said the episode would be reinstated with "extra guidance" at the start.

Cleese, who first found fame with Monty Python's Flying Circus, said it was a critique of racist attitudes, not an endorsement of them. In a tweet he said the BBC was "now run by a mixture of marketing people and petty bureaucrats".

"I would have hoped that someone at the BBC would understand that there are two ways of making fun of human behaviour," he wrote. "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 added.

UKTV said earlier the episode contained "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"We regularly review older content to ensure it meets audience expectations and are particularly aware of the impact of outdated language," it added.
The streaming service later said it will be "adding extra guidance and warnings to the front of programmes 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," it said.

The episode, first aired in October 1975, centres on manic hotel owner Basil Fawlty, played by Cleese, offending a group of German tourists. Fawlty repeatedly says "don't mention the war" and ultimately does a goosestepping impersonation of Adolf Hitler.

The episode also contains a character, Major Gowen, talking about the West Indies cricket team in offensive terms.

The decision to take the episode down even caught the eye of international leaders with Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte asked about it at a Friday news conference.

Fawlty Towers, named Britain's greatest ever sitcom by experts for the Radio Times magazine in 2019, joins a list of UK programmes pulled in recent days.
That followed Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the death in US police custody of unarmed black man George Floyd, which has triggered global outrage.

Netflix removed comedies Little Britain, The League of Gentlemen and The Mighty Boosh. Two of Britain's most popular entertainers, Ant and Dec, apologised for impersonating "people of colour" and comedian Leigh Francis issued an apology for dressing up as black celebrities.

HBO Max also removed classic film Gone With The Wind from its broadcasts because of its "racial depictions".

Fawlty Towers ran for 12 episodes between 1975 and 1979.


Video | News Bulletins

KT Morning Chat: Crescent not sighted in...

Video | Sports

IPL with Cricketwallah: Who will win today's ...

Video | Nation

How things work: The art of making mini-...

Video | Videos

KT Explains: The 100 Million Meals campaign

Video | News Bulletins

KT Morning Chat: Ramadan begins today in...