John Cleese criticizes BBC removal of 'Fawlty Towers' episode due to racial slurs

Following the BBC‘s recent decision to remove a single episode of the mid-1970s British sitcom Fawlty Towers from its UKTV streaming service, John Cleese — star and creator of the popular TV series — has criticized the British broadcasting network.

The episode in question, The Germans, originally aired in 1975 and heard a number of racist remarks from the recurring and elderly character Major Gowen, who used multiple slurs to describe both the West Indies and India cricket teams.

The decision was made in light of the ongoing anti-racism and anti-police brutality protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd last month, according to The Associated Press (AP).

Floyd, a Black man, died in police custody on May 25 after a white former police officer was filmed kneeling on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds during an arrest in Minneapolis. He was 46.

A representative for UKTV, however, said The Germans was being removed temporarily while the BBC “reviews it.” The episode, however, remains on BritBox — which is part-owned by the BBC — and Netflix UK.

“We regularly review older content to ensure it meets audience expectations and are particularly aware of the impact of outdated language,” added the spokesperson.

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In response to the BBC’s “stupid” decision, Cleese, 80, defended the Fawlty Towers episode by saying that the show was not “supporting” racists by using the offensive remarks, but was critiquing racists instead.

The Monty Python star described Gowen, played by Ballard Berkeley, as “an old fossil left over from decades before” in an interview with Australian news outlet the Age on Friday, before expressing disappointment with the BBC and UKTV.

“We were not supporting (Gowen’s) views, we were making fun of them,” said Cleese. “If they can’t see that, if people are too stupid to see that, what can one say?”

In this file photo dated Wednesday, May 6, 2009, the cast of Fawlty Towers from left, Prunella Scales, John Cleese, Connie Booth and Andrew Sachs reunite to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the TV show and mark a special program 'Fawlty Towers: Re-opened' at The Naval and Military Club, London, England.

In this file photo dated Wednesday, May 6, 2009, the cast of Fawlty Towers from left, Prunella Scales, John Cleese, Connie Booth and Andrew Sachs reunite to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the TV show and mark a special program 'Fawlty Towers: Re-opened' at The Naval and Military Club, London, England.

AP Photo/ Edmond Terakopian, FILE

“One of the things I’ve learned in the last 180 years is that people have very different senses of humour. 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.”

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Cleese was also critical of the BBC for attempting to cover its history by removing “problematic” content from its back-catalogue in wake of the protests.

“The Greeks in 500 BC felt that culture, or any kind of real civilization, was only possible because of slavery,” the actor said. “Does that mean we should take down all the statues of Socrates?

“Do you say we shouldn’t be looking at Caravaggio’s paintings because he once murdered someone?”

Despite being against the broadcasting giant’s decision, Cleese expressed support for the Black Lives Matter 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 said.

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The BBC’s removal of The Germans from UKTV follows HBO‘s decision to temporarily remove the 1939 Civil War epic Gone With The Wind from its own streaming service, HBO Max, as a result of its “racial depictions.”

Additionally, the BBC has withdrawn its popular sketch show Little Britain because “times have changed” since the comedy first aired in the early 2000s. The series received major backlash as a result of the use of blackface in some of its sketches.

— With files from the Associated Press

adam.wallis@globalnews.ca

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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