Is editing Fawlty Towers for racism the right choice?

The BBC is planning to edit an episode of the popular 1970s

The BBC is planning to edit an episode of the popular 1970s sitcom Fawlty Towers. This is because of the language used by one of the characters. But is this editing long overdue or political correctness gone mad?

The character Major Gowen is under scrutiny in particular. Without wishing to offend anybody I am afraid that to go through this whole article without mentioning the ‘offensive and illegal’ language used would be impossible. Not to mention frustrating as it is in the human nature of people to immediately look for the very thing we are not allowed to talk about. Let me warn you, if you are easily offended then look away now.

In the episode ‘The Germans’ the major tells Fawlty of a conversation with a woman who “kept referring to the Indians as niggers – ‘no, no, no’ I said ‘the niggers are the West Indians. These people are wogs.”

Undeniably offensive and disgusting language to be used it has created an on-going debate. Is this racism or comedy? While it would be unthinkable for this type of attitude to be used even in a comedy in this day and age, what about older shows? At the time this episode was aired many people would not even have batted an eyelid at this type of language.

Many things since the 70s have changed including opinions and viewpoints. Therefore I feel it can be said that Fawlty Towers was not a racist show. However the question now stands—can we comfortably and morally watch and even laugh at such behaviour today?

I’m 23 years old and obviously too young to have seen these programmes when they originally aired. But I grew up in a time when you had to think about what was politically correct and yet I greatly enjoyed watching these shows. I am therefore living proof that ‘illegal and offensive language’ has not affected my own opinions and views in the slightest.

Even at a young age I was able to tell the difference between outright racism and a comedy pun, and I’m not bragging here. I was no child prodigy, it doesn’t take a genius to understand the difference between satire and genuine racism.

Fawlty Towers is one of the best ‘golden oldies’ of TV shows, alongside Only Fools and Horses, Some Mothers do have ‘em, Dad’s Army and ‘Allo ‘Allo. While the majority of these comedies were filmed in a post war era they still, to this day, remain comedy gold and continue to tickle new generations.

While my love for these old school shows are clear I have to admit the logic and morality of editing out such offensive language.

After all is this not the same principal as updating old academic text books that once contained sexist language or the removal of offensive language in older movies? Is this not simply evolution?

As much as I love Fawlty Towers if the BBC decided to cut all offensive material (without going over the top) it would affect perhaps 10 percent of the material on the show at the most.

Therefore even though some, including the BBC have taken political correctness too far in this case it seems to be for the best. The BBC are not trying to decimate a beloved national treasure nor ignore history but simply move on and develop golden oldies, such as Fawlty Towers, to the high standard of morality that matches society today. 

What do you think of the editing? Is it a good idea? Have your say in the comments section below, on Facebook or on Twitter.