John Cleese: “We were making fun of his views”

Updated: Fawlty Towers star & creator responds to temporary removal of comedy in the UK.

John Cleese has spoken following the temporary removal of a Fawlty Towers episode in the UK.

British-based streaming service UKTV withdrew Episode 6 “The Germans” to review its content.

Whilst some media have suggested this is due to Hitler references, the episode is also understood to include racial slurs made by a retired British general in reference to a West Indies Cricket Team.

But co-creator Cleese has told The Age, “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.”

He added, “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?” he asked “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.”

But Cleese also expressed his support for the aims of 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.”

Fawlty Towers remains available in Australia through Stan and Foxtel.


Only 12 episodes were ever produced.

Should old comedy titles be removed if they offend?

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34 Responses

  1. We may as well destroy all history and all old tv shows and just start again how the pc people of today want it written……yes people I am being sarcastic…..I believe in equality for everyone but we must embrace that history is just that…history…and if you are offended by a tv show or movie it’s simple…just don’t watch it.

  2. I’m sorry I am so for the BLM movement all I’ve done all week is share things about the cause to educate my friends and racists. However I also don’t believe in censorship. And although those that are racists would love hearing these words and these slurs the rest of us know that it’s wrong and are amused but also appalled that they could do such things on tv shows and films back then. So we can still enjoy the rest of it without taking away dialogue or put up some kind of disclaimer along side those words or scenes or at the start of episodes. That’s the right way to handle it and to educate the young so the know the whole gamut of history.

  3. I do remember this episode from years ago. From memory it was about Cleese doing the Nazi salute behind his guests back, assuming all Germans were Nazis. I think all these shows should not be banned. Not because i think there is nothing wrong with them, but in a historical sense we need to understand what people were thinking in that era and learn from it. If you just wipe it out, it will all be forgotton. We need markers to see how far we have come and how far we need to go.

    1. That episode was literally aired just 2 weeks ago in prime time on 9GEM uncensored. And nobody battered an eyelid purely becuase they had a choice not to watch it if they don’t like it. Simple. Nothing has changed.

    2. I disagree with that assessment, jonno – it’s really having a go at the English attitude to the war. The Germans had more or less moved on from it, whereas the English were still stuck by it. The Germans in the episode were portrayed as urbane and sophisticated, trying not to provoke and it the end being bemused.

  4. The pendulum has swung to far to one side regards comedy.If you look at shows from the past probably most would not pass the test by todays standards.
    What happened in america was tragic but unfortunately has been going on for decades.I just hope some good comes out of this event.

  5. What’s the next thing to go. The Shield has said the n word and the f word (gay slur) is that going to be removed as well? When is this going to end? we’ll be down to just Play School and Sesame Street soon.

  6. Removing comedy shows from networks and streaming services is so weak. You’d better remove any comedy show on the TV! I’m sure each and every comedy as racism in it, directed at different races! 😂🤣

  7. Conflicted about this one. I personally felt uncomfortable watching this particular episode over 20 years ago in High School. Even the 70s studio audience is eerily silent when the multiple uses of the N word come up, and it really wouldn’t be missed from an otherwise cracking episode.

    I do believe it’s a product of its time but both the gratuitousness and inconsequential nature of this particular episode I find far more offensive than, say, Tropic Thunder or Always Sunny doing multiple blackface episodes.

    1. It’s also worth pointing out that the BBC edited the n-word out of this episode years ago and it was Cleese approved. Netflix and UKTV had the uncensored version. There was no issues with the Germans/war/wog.

      1. I did, and yes, there is total, absolute silence. The audience laughs at ‘wog’. It could have been juxtaposed with any number of other milder epithets. It’s a terrible scene, there is no comedy in the N-word use, even in 1975, and Basil has does not retort in any way. It is simply said for the sake of it.

    2. The 1970s audience in the UK is different from the audience in the US today, and the N Word had different meaning in different contexts both racist. But in the US it was tied to a derogatory term for a slave and then descendant of slave, divided from many of the words for Black. In the British Colonial context it had a broader meaning as a derogatory term for native.

      The “N Word” and the actual word, as just different symbols representing the same thing. A practice started that when the Protestants decided that the Anglo-Saxon terms for intercourse and the female genitals, in everyday common use and not offensive at all, were suddenly too offensive to rendered in the new medium of print. So printing them was made illegal, thus making them most popular and most powerful swearwords in the English language, and creating obvious euphemistic various for print and stage performance…

  8. Seriously? Don’t set a precedent here, you’re looking at a lot of TV shows: “Hogan’s Heroes”; “Allo Allo”; “Dad’s Army”; “It Ain’t Half Hot Mum” ; McHale’s Navy”, just to name a few! Get over it!

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