15 February 2023

Don't mention the war! You might not get away with it

| Ross Solly
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Fawlty Towers cast

Fawlty Towers is getting a reboot, but a lot has changed in the past 44 years. Photo: File.

Last week it was announced John Cleese had finally relented and agreed to make a new series of Fawlty Towers. Hooray!

I loved this show as a kid. I loved Monty Python, even though the first time I watched most of their movies a lot of the humour went over my head. On second watch, many years later and when I was more worldly-wise, I enjoyed them even more. Life of Brian and Monty Python and the Holy Grail are two comedy classics – so silly you can’t help but laugh uproariously.

Many years later, I got to meet John Cleese and was his straight man during a handful of shows he performed in Canberra around a decade ago. They always warn you not to meet your heroes lest they leave you disappointed, but I enjoyed every minute of our time together.

Ten years ago, cancel culture was barely talked about. Few complained publicly about how inappropriate Fawlty Towers and the Monty Python movies might have been. The worst comments were along the lines of “you wouldn’t get away with that these days …”

And you wouldn’t.

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Sure, Basil Fawlty and his team were risqué. Yes, some of the episodes pushed the envelope. But every episode also poked fun at the times. The English class system, religion, race – nothing was off limits.

Growing up on a farm in Western Australia, we only got one TV station – the ABC – and some of the British comedy series we watched, and laughed at, were far more problematic. It Ain’t Half Hot Mum and Love Thy Neighbour are two that spring readily to mind.

Last week’s announcement received the response I expected on social media.

Many were outraged and appalled that bringing a show like this back could even be contemplated. Cancel culture went into overdrive.

Those same folk who voiced their outrage are going to be even more offended when they see the new series. Word is, Basil Fawlty will have the ‘woke’ and cancel culture firmly in his sights.

For me, there is much from the “good old days” that needs to be consigned to the dustbin of history.

The two television shows I referred to earlier are good examples. But in our rush to shout down opponents and cancel any issue or person who offends our morality, we are running the risk of shutting down legitimate and very necessary debate on many key issues.

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Already discussion about the Voice has outraged proponents and opponents. You don’t dare raise the issue of transgender, no matter what your views are unless you want a public berating. Award ceremonies, be they for music, film, books, whatever, are sure to be denigrated no matter what final decisions are made because there wasn’t an even balance of award recipients.

Those in the public eye, especially those who try to make us laugh, keep us informed, or keep us entertained, talk about the minefield they have to operate in these days.

Try being elected to make public policy.

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In an interview I read with the US singer Pink on the weekend, she said, “these days, everyone wakes up offended”. She should know. She’s been the victim of some outrageous attacks over the years for daring to have a view on issues like abortion and gun control. But she doesn’t care.

And we can only hope that those elected to make decisions for us also stare down the haters and those who want to cancel debates before they even happen.

As Basil Fawlty once famously said: “Don’t mention the war. I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it.”

If only we could all be so lucky now.

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The episode “The Germans” won a poll of the greatest British comedy episode of all time, and the promise was to air the winner on BBC1 at Saturday night primetime. When the BBC had finished editing out all the unacceptable stuff, it was about 17 minutes long and over in a flash. The unacceptable material wasn’t anything to do with Germans, but the references to the “The Major” taking a lady to see India. Still available on Youtube.

HiddenDragon9:07 pm 18 Feb 23

A Downunder interlude (so often seen in British series of that era) at Frowsy Wattle is probably too much to hope for.

It’s interesting how shows like Monty Python and the Goodies couldn’t get away with many of their jokes now.

Back in the early 70s these comedy teams were thought of as lefty students who occasionally pushed the boundaries of normal taste. It was interesting to hear the late Tim Brooke Taylor talking about Goodies episodes that were originally designed to poke fun at apartheid and the black and white minstrel show now look like their being inappropriate, instead of satire on the situation at the time.

Capital Retro6:43 pm 18 Feb 23

The Goodies’ skit on capturing wild Rolf Harris’s in Australia and breeding them in captivity in Britain was masterful. I suppose everything connected with Rolf Harris has been cancelled by now.

there were a few of these where the pointed racial satire of the well-educated Oxbridge writers bypassed the great British public completely, Fawlty Towers’s Major, Johnny Speight’s Alf Garnett. The actor Warren Mitchell detested being thought of as Alf Garnett because what was meant to be a pathetic figure became to be seen as a hero, but he decided to grit his teeth for a long time because it made him very famous.
None were as bad as Johnny Speight’s Kevin O’Grady, an Irishman of Pakistani heritage played by a blackfaced Spike Milligan, designed to poke fun at the racist English of the 1970’s, but which did go too far in its illustrations.

About time to cancel the Cancel Culture. Sick of being lectured to by narrow minded bigots. Form your own planet somewhere else.

“Narrow-minded bigots” is the kind of hateful language that the woke use against those who believe that it is immoral to kill any human being, even an unborn one, so I don’t really know what “lecturing” you’re talking about, since all the media is “broad-minded” in that sense (so “broad” that anything is acceptable…)

Using Basil Fawlty’s voice…So your alright with the cancel the Cancel Culture then?

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