‘Fawlty Towers’ star John Cleese criticises “stupid decision” to remove old episode over racial slurs

The episode in question first aired in 1975, and shows character Major Gowen repeatedly using the N-word

John Cleese has slammed the removal of an episode of Fawlty Towers from a streaming service over racial slurs, calling the decision “stupid”.

The writer, actor and founding member of Monty Python commented after UKTV, which is BBC-owned, said it had temporarily pulled well-known episode The Germans from its service while it carries out a review.

Cleese – who co-wrote and starred in the comedy series – has accused executives of attempting to “pacify” people in a bid to “hang on to their jobs”.


The episode in question first aired in 1975, and shows character Major Gowen repeatedly using the N-word in reference to members of the West Indies cricket team, while also referring to people from India as “w***”.

Speaking to The Age newspaper, he said: “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?”


The 80-year-old said there was a “really admirable feeling that we must make our society less discriminatory”, but went on: “A lot of the people in charge now at the BBC just want to hang on to their jobs.

John Cleese  (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

“If a few people get excited they pacify them rather than standing their ground as they would have done 30 or 40 years ago.”

A UKTV spokesman said: “UKTV has temporarily removed an episode of Fawlty Towers, The Germans, from Gold’s Box Set.

“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We regularly review older content to ensure it meets audience expectations and are particularly aware of the impact of outdated language.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.”

Despite its popularity, the series set in a dysfunctional hotel in Torquay, Devon only ever made 12 episodes, spread across two series in 1975 and 1979.

Last year, it was named the “greatest-ever British TV sitcom” by a panel of experts.

Renewed discussions about race have emerged in the wake of George Floyd’s death last month.

Floyd, who was African American, died in Minneapolis on May 25 when white police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck.

Chauvin has since been sacked and charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter. Three of his colleagues, Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J Alexander Keung, are now all facing charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder, and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.

His death has sparked a series of Black Lives Matter protests across the globe.