‘Gavin & Stacey’: BBC defends use of controversial ‘Fairytale of New York’ lyric

Corporation says the word in the song is antiquated slang for laziness

The BBC has defended using the original, uncensored version of The Pogues‘Fairytale of New York’ in the Gavin & Stacey Christmas special after receiving nearly 900 complaints.

It said in a statement that “there was no intention to offend viewers” by including a controversial line, which uses the slur “f****t”. The corporation argued that the song is “widely played and enjoyed in its original form” and explained that in the context of the song the word deemed offensive was archaic Irish slang for a lazy person.

In the episode, which aired on BBC One on Christmas Day 2019, Bryn (Rob Brydon) and Nessa (Ruth Jones) perform the hit during a karaoke stint at a local pub. The BBC has received 886 complaints from viewers for not censoring the song.

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The BBC’s statement in full reads: “‘Fairytale of New York’ is a well-established, much-loved Christmas song which tells the story of a troubled couple in 1940s New York.

Gavin and Stacey Christmas special
Gavin and Stacey. Credit: BBC

“The descent of their relationship is reflected in the increasingly abusive and offensive terms they use to address each other; insults which are intended to reflect the language that such characters might have used in that era.

“The origin of the word includes a definition which describes it as a contemptuous and antiquated word for laziness, and the author of the song has cited this inference behind his inclusion of that line.

“While the word ‘f***ot’ is now widely acknowledged as having the potential to offend, the song never suggests or implies that this is, or was ever, an appropriate way to address another person, nor does it link it to homosexuality. Nessa and Bryn were seen singing the original lines and we can assure you there was no intention to offend viewers.

“We understand that some people will find it offensive in any context but we also recognise that the song is widely played and enjoyed in its original form. Ofcom have previously stated that they feel it is ‘unlikely that audiences would widely perceive [the song] as a serious attempt to denigrate the homosexual community’.”

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Jones, who co-wrote the special with James Cordon, stepped in to respond to the backlash explaining that the pair included the word to “remain true to the characters”.

“It is a different climate. But we have to remain true to the characters, to who they were,” she told The Sun in December.

“Characters in Gavin & Stacey are kind and big-hearted, I believe. So I think no one is going to be intentionally hurtful. But by the same token, they’re not necessarily going to be completely politically correct or be aware of political correctness.”

In 2007, BBC Radio 1 made the decision to censor the word from the song but later reversed their ruling. Radio 1 controller Andy Parfitt said: “After careful consideration, I have decided that the decision to edit the Pogues song was wrong.”

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