You could always mention the war …

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It’s no surprise that programmes originally made for a post watershed slot, like The Sweeney and The Professionals, will be cut for a 9.00 am repeat showing.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.

8 thoughts on “You could always mention the war …

  1. The ‘Some Mother Do ‘Ave Um’ dvd releases are also a bad example of this. Episode 1 of season 3 has a whole scene removed, where Frank falls in the tar. Luckily I have the episode on Beta unedited from a BBC repeat in 1988…

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  2. Perhaps it’s a generational thing, but I think that a certain degree of tolerance, without blanket acceptance, needs to be applied when appreciating shows from the 70s and early 80s. Attitudes were different, for better or worse. It doesn’t make them right, or offer any justification, but it was what it was. But I can certainly understand why the Major’s use of certain racial epithets in that one ep of Fawlty Towers is no longer acceptable for general broadcast. I think it’s right to have been cut. It doesn’t make me appreciate the series any less.

    I can appreciate Love Thy Neighbor, to a degree, because the race-baiter Eddie Booth was in a minority of one, and his bigotry generally brought him undone. There was also such warmth between the characters, it was a great working class comedy, but the constant use of racial terms could not be condoned, then or now, whatever excuses are made. An interesting example I only recently discovered, in Not the Nine O’Clock News’ live album, there was what could now only be taken as an antisemitic insult in a sketch about Barry Manilow. I don’t think for a second the NTNON team were anti-Semites, and the surviving members would probably squirm with regret now if they heard it. (I hope they would).

    It’s a fascinating dilemma, and one that we’ll be wrestling with for some time to come.

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  3. An interesting example of use of the N word and context would be the Hancock’s Half Hour: The Two Murderers, in which an increasingly paranoid Hancock makes a joke out of *that* Agatha Christe novel. One of the issues here is that the book in question has long since been retitled so the context of the joke doesn’t apply to a modern audience.

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  4. Last year I saw the 70th anniversary re-release of Kind Hearts and Coronets. It still has a U certificate, but there was a disclaimer just before the start of the film about some racist language used in a key scene towards the end of the film. The film was made over 70 years ago and is set even earlier.

    The Agatha Christie story was later retitled Ten Little Indians, but apparently that’s now politically incorrect as in most recent adaptations the poem has been changed to Ten Little Soldier Boys.

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  5. John Cleese said that The Germans was the only episode of Fawlty Towers not to have been shown in Germany. But he wasn’t having a go at Germans, he was having a go a certain type of Englishman who won’t let anyone forget the war because it was the last time that Britain was of any global importance.

    It reminds me of when Warren Mitchell had people come yup to him and say that they like the way that he would have a go at the blacks, and he would reply that he wasn’t having a go at the blacks, he was having a go at people like them.

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  6. I’ve heard that there were plans to remove Baden-Powell’s Statue from Poole Harbour because some people consider him to be racist. And I also heard about plans to protect Winston Churchill’s statue from protesters. But people are falling into the trap of judging historical figures by today’s standards. (Churchill was born over 140 years ago and died over 50 years ago, Baden-Powell was born over 160 years ago and died nearly 80 years ago.)

    I can understand why people wanted Edward Colston’s statue removed from Bristol city centre, and people are calling for other stsues to be removed. But George Washington kept black slaves, so should his statues be removed and should the USA change the name of its capital city? Where do you draw the line?

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