Famous ‘don’t mention the war’ Fawlty Towers episode has been removed from streaming - here’s why

Friday, 12th June 2020, 12:47 pm
Updated Friday, 12th June 2020, 12:47 pm
The iconic episode has temporarily been axed because of “racial slurs” (Photo: BBC)

The famous “don’t mention the war” episode of beloved 1970s British sitcom Fawlty Towers has been removed from streaming services.

UKTV, which is owned by the BBC, has temporarily made ‘The Germans’ episode unavailable while it carries out a review.

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Why has the episode been removed?

The iconic episode has temporarily been axed because of “racial slurs” used by characters in the show.

First aired in 1975, the episode shows eccentric hotel owner Basil Fawlty, played by John Cleese, goose-stepping around while shouting “don’t mention the war” in front of a family of visiting Germans.

It also contains scenes in which elderly resident Major Gowen uses offensive language to talk about the West Indies cricket team.

The scene had already been edited out of repeats that were shown on the BBC in 2013, following consultation with representatives of star and co-writer Cleese.

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“We regularly review older content to ensure it meets audience expectations and are particularly aware of the impact of outdated language.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.”

What did John Cleese say?

Fawlty Towers’ creator and star of the sitcom, John Cleese, branded the move to remove the episode as “stupid”.

Speaking to The Age Newspaper, Cleese said: “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.

“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?

“Fawlty Towers has given a large number of people a great deal of happiness, why would you want to stop that?

“It reminds me of the definition of a Scottish Presbyterian as someone who has a nasty, sneaking feeling that someone, somewhere, is having a good time.”

Have any other shows been removed?

The removal of the episode comes amid worldwide protests led by the Black Lives Matter movement, which began in the US following the killing of African American man George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis.

Floyd was killed by a white police officer who knelt on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.

The protests have sparked fresh debate about elements of well-known TV shows and films, which are now considered offence by portions of modern audiences, prompting broadcasters and streaming services to reevaluate their content.

Fawlty Towers is not the only TV show to face removal from streaming services, with Little Britain also coming under fire.

The series, which stars David Walliams and Matt Lucas, has now been axed from BBC iPlayer due to complaints about the use of blackface in some of the comedy sketches.

HBO has also temporarily removed the 1939 civil war epic Gone With The Wind due to its “racial depictions”.

The Mighty Boosh, starring Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt, has been removed from Netflix and Sky catch-up due to its Spirit of Jazz character, which was played by Fielding in blackface.

Bo Selecta has been taken off Channel 4’s catch-up and streaming service, All 4, and presenting duo Ant and Dec have apologised for wearing blackface on their Saturday Night Takeaway show in 2003, in which they dressed up as two fictional Jamaican women to prank Emmerdale cast members.