The decision is part of a backlash against racism in the wake of the May 25 death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee to his neck. That backlash has been most visibly seen in the protests against statues of slave traders and other historic figures associated with imperialism and racism.
In the episode, hotel owner Basil Fawlty is seen rocking back when a black man approaches him in the hospital where his wife Sybil is readying for an operation on an in-growing toenail, only to find out that he’s the doctor.
Fawlty, who is played by John Cleese of “Monty Python” fame, is also seen goose-stepping around while shouting “don’t mention the war” in front of a group of visiting Germans after a bout of concussion.
But what's causing particular offense, is a scene involving one of the hotel's long-time guests, an elderly major, who uses deeply offensive language about the West Indies and India cricket teams. “The episode contains racial slurs so we are taking the episode down while we review it," a spokesman for UKTV said. “We regularly review older content to ensure it meets audience expectations and are particularly aware of the impact of outdated language.”
The spokesman said the company wants to “take time” to consider options. Other shows on the service carry warnings or are edited. The full episode is still being aired on Netflix and on Britbox, which is half-owned by the BBC, without any warnings or editing.
Cleese has criticized the decision, describing those who fail to see the episode is a critique of racism rather than an endorsement of it as “stupid.” He told The Age, an Australian newspaper, from his home in Los Angeles, that the major “was an old fossil” from decades past and that the program was making fun of his views.
While questioning attempts to airbrush the past, Cleese expressed his support for the aims of the Black Lives Matter protest movement. “At the moment there is a huge swell of anger and a really admirable feeling that we must make our society less discriminatory, and I think that part of it is very good,” he said.
The removal of the episode by UKTV follows the decision by HBO Max to temporarily remove the 1939 civil war epic "Gone With The Wind" because of its “racial depictions." The BBC has also withdrawn its popular sketch show “Little Britain” because “times have changed” since the comedy first aired in the early 2000s. The series has come under fire because of the use of blackface in some sketches.