BBC to Restore ‘Fawlty Towers’ Episode Pulled From Streaming Over Use of N-Word After Pressure From John Cleese

The 1975 episode features a character making several racist epithets

John Cleese. Photo: Getty Images

“Monty Python” leading man John Cleese has successfully pressured the BBC to reinstate an episode of his 1970s sitcom “Fawlty Towers” on its streaming channel, after the BBC removed the episode because it contains racist language.

In the 1975 episode “The Germans,” Major Gowen (Ballard Berkeley), a character written as — and understood at the time to be — a satire of aging Brits still stuck in a racist or imperialist mindset, makes several racist remarks, including the use of the N-word. The BBC decided to remove the episode from its UKTV service June 12 in order to conduct a review of the content.

Cleese fired back at the BBC for removing the episode in several tweets Friday, calling the decision to remove the episode from UKTV “cowardly and gutless and contemptible.”

“I would have hoped that someone at the BBC would understand that there are two ways of making fun of human behaviour,” Cleese wrote. “One is to attack it directly. The other is to have someone who is patently a figure of fun, speak up on behalf of that behaviour.”

Cleese went on to lament the management at the BBC, which he accused of not being invested in the programming it produces.

“It’s not just stupidity,” Cleese added. “The BBC is now run by a mixture of marketing people and petty bureaucrats. It used to have a large sprinkling of people who’d actually made programmes… Not any more. So BBC decisions are made by persons whose main concern is not losing their jobs…That’s why they’re so cowardly and gutless and contemptible.”

The BBC and UKTV did not immediately respond to TheWrap’s request for comment. UKTV tweeted the episode will be added back to the streaming service with additional “guidance” that gives viewers a warning about the offensive language.

“We will be adding extra guidance and warnings to the front of programmes to highlight potentially offensive content and language,” UKTV said. “We will reinstate Fawlty Towers once that extra guidance has been added, which we expect will be in the coming days.”

Cleese told The Age yesterday that the offensive portrayal of The Major wasn’t intended to be a show of support for his racist views.

“The Major was an old fossil left over from decades before. We were not supporting his views, we were making fun of them,” Cleese told The Age. “If they can’t see that, if people are too stupid to see that, what can one say?”