Unedited Fawlty Towers episode containing the N-word is broadcast on BBC’s new Netflix-style streaming service Britbox
- Writers work should not be ‘tampered in order to make yourself feel better’
- Twelve episodes of Fawlty Towers are to be shown on BritBox streaming service
- Fawlty’s Mayor says ‘all cricketers are n*****s’ in an episode soon available
- Ex-Commissioner says people offended should just avoid watching the episode
Uncensored: Ballard Berkeley as Major Gowen in the 1970s comedy
The BBC’s new Netflix-style streaming service is offering viewers an unedited Fawlty Towers episode from which the N-word and other offensive terms had previously been cut.
The Germans is fondly remembered for the repeated line by John Cleese’s Basil Fawlty: ‘Don’t mention the war.’
But the episode, first broadcast in 1975, also features a stream of racist language when long-term hotel resident Major Gowen, played by Ballard Berkeley, recalls the time he took a female friend to watch cricket at The Oval.
The Major says: ‘The strange thing was that throughout the morning she kept referring to the Indians as n*****s.’ He adds: ‘ “No, no, no, no,” I said, “n*****s are West Indians, these people are w**s”.
‘ “No, no, no,” she said, “all cricketers are n*****s”.’ In 2013, the BBC removed the offensive language from future broadcasts on the grounds that public attitudes had ‘changed significantly’, acting with the full backing of writer Cleese.
Among the 12 episodes available to download on subscription service BritBox, is The Germans where actor Stephen Hall impersonates Hitler. It is accompanied by a message to viewers: ‘‘Contains some offensive racial language of the time and upsetting scenes’
All 12 episodes of Fawlty Towers are now available on Britbox, the new joint initiative between the BBC and ITV which is supposed to rival Netflix. Most of them are accompanied by warnings which relate to language and content.
The Germans is preceded by the message: ‘Contains some offensive racial language of the time and upsetting scenes.’
Critics were last night divided over the decision to reinstate the offensive terms. Comedy writer David Quantick said: ‘I hope it’s a mistake because I don’t think the BBC is in the habit of promoting racist language. If I watched an episode with the N-word included it would get in the way and I would just be thinking about that for the next half an hour.’
This comes as BritBox has announced it is streaming episodes without editing the language. The N-word should not be edited out of Fawlty Towers ‘in order [for people to] make [themselves] feel better’, according to Trevor Phillips, former chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission
But impressionist Rory Bremner said: ‘It’s quite clear that John Cleese was ridiculing colonial attitudes. The laugh is at the Major’s expense, not the races mentioned.’
Steve Bennett, editor of comedy website Chortle, said: ‘I can understand the need to remove words and scenes that sound appalling to modern ears from comedies that are repeated on terrestrial TV, which comes uninvited into the living room. But on-demand is different, especially if viewers are warned beforehand about questionable content. Keeping in such scenes is useful to give an insight into how attitudes have changed.
The service, available for £5.99-per-month, shows current and archive programmes but will not have any original content until 2020
‘There were people like the Major, and probably still are, and erasing them from history doesn’t erase their views.’
And Trevor Phillips, former chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, added: ‘I am against the removal of these kind of references. If you think the terms are unacceptable do not play the episodes. Do not tamper with the works of writers who created them at a particular time in order to make yourself feel better.’
Britbox said: ‘We’ve carefully selected a wide range of the very best in British programming and…we’ve also labelled content appropriately with language warnings.’
‘Keeping in such scenes is useful to give an insight into how attitudes have changed’, says Steve Bennett, editor of comedy website Chortle