UKTV removed “The Germans” from its Gold Box Set of downloadable programs, citing the fact that it contained “racial slurs.” UKTV was not specific about the slur, but it is believed to have been uttered by character The Major (Ballard Berkeley), who uses the n-word when referring to Caribbean sportsmen.
“We regularly review older content to ensure it meets audience expectations and are particularly aware of the impact of outdated language,” UKTV said in a statement. “Some shows carry warnings, and others are edited. We want to take time to consider our options for this episode.”
Cleese, who co-created and starred in Fawlty Towers, which aired from 1975-79, told Australian newspaper The Age that the show was laughing at The Major rather than laughing with him. “The Major was an old fossil leftover from decades before. We were not supporting his 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?”
He lashed out at BBC executives as part of the interview, though UKTV operates independently of BBC Studios, which in turn is not part of the BBC’s public service operation. He said: “A lot of the people in charge now at the BBC just want to hang onto 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.”
UKTV’s decision comes as Netflix and others have taken down British comedies, such as Little Britain, because they featured performers in blackface. It follows the Black Lives Matter movement forcing issues of discrimination and equality up the social agenda after the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis.
Cleese was supportive of the Black Lives Matter mission. “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. “It seems to me the best parts of the George Floyd protests have been very moving and very, very powerful.”