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Fawlty Towers is regarded by many as the finest and best-loved sitcom the BBC or anyone else has produced. Yet while it wasn't particularly daring 35 years ago, it would be far too risky to be made now.

Several factors - mild racism and a smidgen of misogyny among them - would make it "unacceptable" (even "inappropriate") in today's curious comedy culture, where the crudest behaviour and most vulgar language are practically a requirement, but anything "offensive" to a select list of minorities is considered so out of kilter with the times that it would struggle to find a home on YouTube, let alone cable TV.

That the proscribed list of offendable groups in modern comedy misses out, among many, the elderly, the middle-class and the religious, we might put down to a combination of the youth of those giving the yea or nea to new comedy ideas and the fickle finger of fashion, which dictates, for instance, that Jews (once modish) have been replaced as a prime protected minority by Muslims (very in). But what, one suspects, would cause several of the BBC bureaucracy's vacuous equality and suchlike "units" to blow a gasket simultaneously would not be so much the affectionate portrayal of Manuel as an imbecile who can't even speak English properly, or of Mr O'Reilly, the builder, as a deceitful, lazy, incompetent wastrel ("Nothing but a half-witted, thick Irish joke," as Sybil Fawlty crisply sums him up). O'Reilly could be replaced, after all, by a dim white chav (non-protected species) and Manuel, perhaps, by a chinless gap year Sloane (ditto). Similarly, the Major's references to "niggers" and "wogs" could be removed without too much damage, hilarious as they are in context.

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January 9th, 2009
5:01 PM
It was certainly tongue-in-cheek writing at times. However, I believe it would be successful if released today. I say this because these days, especially in America, shows manage to find an audience with time. A good example would be the American show "Fraiser," a spin off of the even more successful show "Cheers." With jokes about Goethe, and dialogues that give notice to Kafka, Fraiser was one of those shows that required a bit more from the viewer. It even took on a "class reference" of sorts when it was implied during its' run that you must be upper-crust to understand that show. Even animated shows have a focused viewership at times. Matt Groening, creator of the comic strip "Life in Hell" and most notably "The Simpsons," had another sci-fi-based show called "Futurama" which aired on the American Fox network. After a couple seasons Fox noticed that it didn't have the same number of viewers as The Simpsons and was canceled. This generated a great deal of complaints, but Fox stuck to its' guns. Later, reruns started appearing on a couple of cable channels and has become a cult hit to this day. Futurama's audience was along the same lines as Fraiser in that its' jokes were not always understood by everyone. There were joke references to the Special Theory of Relativity, nods to Richard Feynman, and even to more obscure figures such as the French composer Olivier Messiaen. (One of the main character names, "Turanga Leela" [Leela for short], was in reference to a symphony entitled "Turangalila" by Messiaen, of whom Groening is a fan). I just feel that with today's vast amount of choices for entertainment there would be more room for acceptance for such a show as Faulty Towers. Whether or not it is "acceptable" would depend on the medium in which it was presented.

Have another vat of wine, dear
January 8th, 2009
1:01 AM
"The Vicar of Dibley" is surely what you mean. The writing is so lowbrow that no cultural reference more elevated than the Spice Girls or the Da Vinci Code surfaces. Which is why we have a library of DVD's from the 60's, 70's and 80's to watch instead of contemporary television.

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