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Comedy legend John Cleese blasts 'cowardly and gutless' decision to remove 45-year-old sitcom episode over racial slurs

Cleese said 'Fawlty Towers' uses slurs to ridicule actual bigots — and some are too 'stupid' to get that

Image source: YouTube screenshot

British comic legend John Cleese of Monty Python fame blasted the "cowardly and gutless and contemptible" decision to remove an episode of "Fawlty Towers" — a sitcom he wrote and starred in — from a BBC-owned streaming platform because of racial slurs, BBC News reported.

What are the details?

In the 1975 episode titled, "The Germans," Cleese's Basil Fawlty interacts with an older character named the Major, who uses the N-word and slur for the people of India — the latter of which is technically an ethnic slur. In another scene, Cleese's character uses a slur for Germans.

Cleese reacted to the censorship news as only Cleese can.

"I would have hoped that someone at the BBC would understand that there are two ways of making fun of human behavior," he tweeted Friday. "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 behavior."

Cleese then compared episode to the M.O. of another British sitcom character Alf Garnett of "'Til Death do Us Part" who inspired the creation of Archie Bunker and "All in the Family."

"We laughed at Alf's reactionary views. Thus we discredited them, by laughing at him," Cleese added. "Of course, there were people — very stupid people — who said, 'Thank God someone is saying these things at last.' We laughed at these people, too."

He then said such individuals are making comedy decisions at the BBC.

"But it's not just stupidity," Cleese continued. "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 programs. 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. I rest my case."

What did the streaming service have to say?

"UKTV has temporarily removed an episode of Fawlty Towers The Germans from Gold's Box Set," a spokesman for the streaming service told BBC News. "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."

Cleese does not pander to the outrage mob

Cleese is not one to entertain the demands of the politically correct. Four years ago, he warned that pandering to such people will lead us into an Orwellian society.

"All humor is critical. If we start saying, 'Oh, we mustn't criticize or offend them,' then humor is gone, and with humor goes a sense of proportion — and then, as far as I'm concerned, you're living in '1984,'" Cleese said, referencing George Orwell's classic dystopian novel. "So the idea that you have to be protected from any kind of uncomfortable emotion is one I absolutely do not subscribe to."

And after being accused of racism and xenophobia last year when he repeated his observation that London "is not really an English city" anymore — an indirect reference to the influx of immigrants — Cleese hit right back: "I think it's legitimate to prefer one culture to another. For example, I prefer cultures that do not tolerate female genital mutilation. Will this will be considered racist by all those who hover, eagerly hoping that someone will offend them — on someone else's behalf, naturally."

UPDATE, 7:21 p.m.: Cleese posted the following Twitter video Friday, which insightfully speaks to many of the issues at hand — and is, of course, hilarious:

This story has been updated.

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