FAWLTY TOWERS “The Germans” episode UPDATE: As you have most likely read over the last couple of days, the iconic 12th episode of Fawlty Towers entitled “The Germans” was pulled from the BBC owned UKTV Play streaming service due to several racial slurs and other offensive terms directed towards a Caribbean sportsman headed to Fawlty Towers for a cricket match by Major Gowen, the hotel’s elderly resident played brilliantly by Ballard Berkeley.
At the time of the removal, long-time fans of the series were unclear as to whether or not we would ever be able to ‘mention the war’ ever again. Well, what a difference a day makes as word now comes from the UK streaming service that the episode will be re-instated in the not-too-distant future with “extra guidance” to be added to the front of the program.
“We already offer guidance to viewers across some of our classic comedy titles, but we recognize that more contextual information can be required on our archive comedy, so we will be adding extra guidance and warnings to the front of programs to highlight potentially offensive content and language. We will reinstate ‘Fawlty Towers’ once that extra guidance has been added, which we expect will be in the coming days,” said UKTV in a statement.
It seems as though John Cleese himself called into question the decision to remove the episode, labeling it as ‘stupid’. Speaking to Australian newspaper The Age, Cleese had said: “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?” A reminder that it was also Cleese (see below) who worked with the BBC back in 2013 to remove the offensive slurs from the broadcast versions of the episode in question.
Despite his criticism, Cleese has applauded the Black Lives Matter protest 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 told The Age. “It seems to me the best parts of the George Floyd protests have been very moving and very, very powerful,” he added.
From Friday: On the heels of the removal of The Mighty Boosh, Little Britain, Come Fly with Me and The League of Gentlemen from Netflix, BBC iPlayer and Britbox, comes the announcement by catch-up and streaming platform, UKTV Play, that they will immediately remove “The Germans” episode of what has long been considered the greatest television comedy series in existence, Fawlty Towers. While the remaining eleven episodes will still be available, at this point, no one knows if we’ve heard the last of the classic catchphrase line from the episode, “Don’t mention the war“.
Originally broadcast on Friday 24th October 1975 as the last episode in the sitcom’s first series, it is perhaps the most well-known episode of the comedy which centers around a German family arriving to stay at the hotel run by Basil and Sybil Fawlty. During the episode, Basil receives a blow to the head and when his last iota of restraint and decorum is lost he berates the Germans with a slew of undiplomatic quips about the Second World War ending in his goose-stepping around the building in a mad, concussion-induced daze.
While series like The Mighty Boosh, Little Britain, Come Fly with Me and The League of Gentlemen were removed due to sketches or storylines featuring white actors appearing in blackface, according to a UKTV spokesperson, in the case of Fawlty Towers, the removal of the Germans episode has more to do with the racial slurs and other offensive terms used by Major Gowen, the hotel’s elderly resident played brilliantly by Ballard Berkeley, in relation to a cricket match. There was, however, no mention or reference of Basil’s repeated berating and mocking of the German guests with endless culturally insensitive jokes as reasoning for the removal.
This isn’t the first time that “The Germans” episode has faced a detailed review by a broadcaster. BBC2 removed the offensive language in question when it was repeated early on a Sunday evening back in January 2013. “Public attitudes have changed since it was made and it was decided to make 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″, said a BBC spokesperson.
The Fawlty Towers episode may not be the last series to come under scrutiny as both Gavin & Stacey and Ant & Dec have come under fire recently for offensive material.