John Cleese has criticized the BBC over the recent decision to remove an episode of Fawlty Towers, a British sitcom from the 1970's that Cleese both created and starred in. The decision to remove the episode from its UKTV streaming service was based on its use of racial slurs, according to Global News.
The BBC made the decision in response to the ongoing protests ignited by the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. The episode originally aired in 1975, called The Germans, and it features an elderly character named Major Gowen who used multiple slurs when describing cricket teams of both India and with West Indies.
Apparently, the episode is only being removed while UKTV "reviews it" said a spokesperson for the streaming service, however it can still be found on BritBox, a service owned by both the BBC and it Netflix UK. “We regularly review older content to ensure it meets audience expectations and are particularly aware of the impact of outdated language,” said the spokesperson.
Little Britain, another popular BBC sketch show has also been removed on the grounds that "times have changed." That comedy show first aired in the early 2000's and featured the use of blackface in certain sketches.
Cleese lamented the BBC's take and said that the Fawlty Towers episode is lampooning racists, rather than "supporting" them, calling the BBC's decision "stupid." In an interview with Australian news outlet, Cleese described Major Gowen's character as “an old fossil left over from decades before.”
“We were not supporting (Gowen’s) views, we were making fun of them,” said Cleese, now 80-years-old. “If they can’t see that, if people are too stupid to see that, what can one say?”
“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.”
Cleese also called the move "problematic", saying it was an attempt by the BBC to hide from their history by going through all their back catalogue to remove anything that could be seen as damaging today.
“The Greeks in 500 BC felt that culture, or any kind of real civilization, was only possible because of slavery,” said Cleese. “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?”
Cleese also said he supports the Black Lives Matter movement while also being against the BBC's decision.
“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,” said Cleese.
The removal of the episode The Germans by the BBC comes after HBO's decision to remove the film Gone With The Wind, a 1939 civil war drama, from its streaming service as well due some of its "racial depictions."