The only thing that surprised me about the recent Fawlty Towers storm in a tea cup is that UK Play hadn’t already been using the edited version of The Germans (snipped – apparently with John Cleese’s approval in 2013 – for BBC repeat showings).
Now this “banned” episode will be back, albeit with a disclaimer at the beginning, which seems fair enougb. And despite what some people think, the issue was never anything to do with insulting the Germans. That’s still perfectly okay …
My preference would always be to have things complete, but in the world of UK daytime cable and satellite re-runs that’s rarely so (although the pitchfork-wielding mob on Twitter yesterday didn’t seem to realise this. Which is probably just as well).
It’s no surprise that programmes originally made for a post watershed slot, like The Sweeney and The Professionals, will be cut for a 9.00 am repeat showing. But it seems that the cheapskates at ITV4 don’t bother to run the unedited version in their late night schedules – it’s far easier just to stick on the edited master again.
Mind you, given the rotten picture quality of both series on ITV4 (they’re also cropped into widescreen as the final indignity) I remain slightly amazed that anyone actually bothers with them.
Other tweaks are more amusing (to me at least). Fletcher might have enjoyed ogling the Page Three girls of The Sun during the seventies, but Porridge watchers today on UK Play are denied this treat – the offending breasts have been pixelated.
Television edits are nothing new. Galton and Simpson approved trims to a number of Hancock’s Half Hour episodes back in the 1980’s for VHS and repeat broadcasting (trimming frames here and there to tighten up the epjsodes). David Croft also oversaw the editing of selected Are You Being Served? episodes for a daytime repeat slot. Alas, these ended up being released in error on the R2 DVDs.
Rewinding back even further, 1976 episodes of Doctor Who (The Deadly Assassin) and I, Claudius (Zeus, By Jove!) were both trimmed for repeat showings. The Doctor Who episode was subsequently recovered and restored, but I, Claudius remains only in its edited state.
That’s incredibly annoying, but it does highlight the fact that content edits are nothing new.
For me, if the originals are available (on DVD, say) then I can’t get too worked up about what the umpteenth re-run on television looks like. Not too many DVDs have been edited for content (The Goodies for example – packed with contentious moments – sailed through unedited when Network released the complete series a while back).
Most edited DVDs fall into the AYBS? camp, cut television masters used because the bods at 2 Entertain (it was almost always 2 Entertain) couldn’t be bothered to find the original versions.
And we haven’t even got into the terrority of actors blacking/yellowing up yet (either for drama or comedy). John Bennett’s turn in The Talons of Weng Chiang continues to infuriate a vocal minority of Doctor Who fans. And a minority of that minority believe that because they dislike it, nobody should ever watch the story again – which is where the fun really begins.
Personally I take each archive programme as it comes. There’s plenty of moments which make me wince or tut, but there’s so many more which still enthral and entertain. And the more you watch from a certain era, the better an understanding of that time you’ll get. Taking the odd moment out of context is where the trouble tends to begin.