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John Cleese criticises decision to remove Fawlty Towers episode from UKTV

UKTV, which is owned by BBC Studios, said it had made The Germans unavailable while it carries out a review.

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John Cleese (Conor McCabe/PA)

John Cleese (Conor McCabe/PA)

John Cleese (Conor McCabe/PA)

John Cleese has hit out at the removal of an episode of classic 1970s sitcom Fawlty Towers from streaming service UKTV.

The famous “don’t mention the war” episode was removed because it contains “racial slurs”.

UKTV, which is owned by BBC Studios, said it had temporarily made The Germans unavailable while it carries out a review.

Cleese told The Age newspaper 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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An episode of classic sitcom Fawlty Towers has been removed from a streaming service because it contains ‘racial slurs’ (BBC/PA)

An episode of classic sitcom Fawlty Towers has been removed from a streaming service because it contains ‘racial slurs’ (BBC/PA)

PA

An episode of classic sitcom Fawlty Towers has been removed from a streaming service because it contains ‘racial slurs’ (BBC/PA)

“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 said there was a “really admirable feeling that we must make our society less discriminatory” but said: “A lot of the people in charge now at the BBC just want to hang on to their jobs.

“If a few people get excited they pacify them rather than standing their ground as they would have done 30 or 40 years ago.”

The episode first aired in 1975 and sees Cleese’s misanthropic hotel owner Basil Fawlty goose-stepping around while shouting “don’t mention the war” in front of a group of visiting Germans.

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Little Britain stars David Walliams and Matt Lucas (Ian West/PA)

Little Britain stars David Walliams and Matt Lucas (Ian West/PA)

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Little Britain stars David Walliams and Matt Lucas (Ian West/PA)

It also contains scenes showing the Major Gowen character using offensive language about the West Indies cricket team.

According to reports, Major Gowen’s scenes had already started to be edited out by some broadcasters.

A UKTV spokesman said: “UKTV has temporarily removed an episode of Fawlty Towers The Germans from Gold’s Box Set.

“The episode contains 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.

“Some shows carry warnings and others are edited.

“We want to take time to consider our options for this episode.”

The removal comes amid a re-energised debate on how best to deal with parts of well-known films and TV shows that are now deemed offensive by portions of modern audiences.

As the Black Lives Matter movement has returned to prominence following the death of George Floyd, broadcasters and streaming services have reevaluated their content.

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Vivien Leigh and co-star Clark Gable in their famous clinch in the 1939 blockbuster Gone With The Wind (PA)

Vivien Leigh and co-star Clark Gable in their famous clinch in the 1939 blockbuster Gone With The Wind (PA)

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Vivien Leigh and co-star Clark Gable in their famous clinch in the 1939 blockbuster Gone With The Wind (PA)

In an apparent reference to the removal of comedy programmes from its streaming services, Cleese also later criticised BBC bosses in a series of tweets.

He said that those tasked with making decisions at the corporation were “cowardly and gutless and contemptible”.

The broadcaster is run by a mixture of “marketing people and petty bureaucrats”, he added.

HBO Max temporarily removed 1939 civil war epic Gone With The Wind because of its “racial depictions”.

Little Britain had been removed from iPlayer because “times have changed” since the comedy first aired.

The series, starring David Walliams and Matt Lucas, has come under fire recently because of the use of blackface in some sketches.

The BBC has been contacted for comment.

PA