John Cleese - BBC Accused of 'Airbrushing History' in Fawlty Towers
One of the UK's most popular comedy moments, The Germans episode in Fawlty Towers, was censored to avoid racist language. Instead of the positive reaction the BBC probably expected, there has instead been mass criticism levied at the national network for 'airbrushing history', the Daily Mail reports.
The episode includes John Cleese's Basil Fawlty mocking Hitler by mimicking his walk and affecting a moustache in his style. However, that's not the problem. In the original, full episode an exchange between Basil Fawlty and 'The Major'. The Daily Mail remembers the scene: "The major tells Fawlty about the time he took a woman to see India play cricket at the Oval. He then says: 'The strange thing was, throughout the morning she kept referring to the Indians as niggers. "No, no, no," I said, "the niggers are the West Indians. These people are wogs".' The BBC removed the Major's offensive words, but in a similar vain to the outcry against the censorship of the word 'injun' in a recent publication of the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Taking to the pages of the BBC's 'Points of View', viewers aired their thoughts on this censorship. "You can't airbrush history away and I doubt if anyone but the terminally thin-skinned could be offended by the major, a character we're clearly supposed to laugh at rather than with," said one responder. Another asked the BBC to trust its audience, saying 'It's about time you grew up BBC, and trusted your audience. We know what is acceptable and what is not and what is funny and why, and the fact it is of a time which is now long past. We understand context, the major is a figure of fun, he doesn't whip up hatred." The Guardian agrees, writing: "Cleese and Booth, when they wrote the character of Major Gowen, were clearly not being unthinkingly racist; rather, they were satirising an English upper-class bigot."
The BBC has since responded to the complainants via a spokesperson who said: 'We are very proud of Fawlty Towers and its contribution to British television comedy... But public attitudes have changed significantly since it was made and it was decided to make some minor changes, with the consent of John Cleese's management, to allow the episode to transmit to a family audience at 7.30pm on BBC2."