The 8 worse acts of censorship in TV history
CENSORSHIP reared its ugly head again this week, as the BBC cut a line of dialogue from the classic comedy Fawlty Towers, in which the ‘old-fashioned’ major tells Basil about the time he took a lady to see India play cricket at the Oval:
‘The strange thing was, throughout the morning she kept referring to the Indians as niggers. “No, no, no,” I said, “the niggers are the West Indians. These people are wogs”.’
This is the first time, as far as we are aware, that any of John Cleese’s work has been censored retrospectively. But as a member of the Monty Python team, he was familiar with the BBC’s informal strictures, which encouraged self-censorship wherever possible. Even the group’s albums, on which more or less anything was permissible, occasionally required that they rein in their more extreme tendencies.
But they were not alone in their ignominy. Some of the biggest, most rebellious names in the recording industry occasionally had to bite the bullet and sacrifice their art for a place on the playlist or a prime-time TV slot. Here are eight cutting-edge artists for whom discretion was the greater part of valor, and a couple for whom it wasn’t…
Farewell to John Denver appeared on the group’s Contractual Obligation Album, and contained a short sequence in which Eric Idle sang a parody of Denver’s ‘Annie’s Song’, after which Denver is strangled loudly. On legal advice the song was replaced by a spoken apology.
In 1966 race was still a taboo issue in the USA. For the American release of their classic single Substitute, the chorus was changed from “I look all white but my dad was black” to the completely irrelevant “I try going forward but my feet walk back”.
Micky Dolenz penned the unusual Randy Scouse Git after hearing Alf Garnet say it on the popular British sitcom Till Death Us Do Part. RCA in Britain weren’t too keen on this and the single went out under the cryptic but cool name of Alternate Title. In the States it went out under its real title, which was every bit as baffling to the Americans as the UK title was to Brits.
Mott The Hoople
David Bowie’s greatest song was blocked by the BBC for the line “Wendy’s stealing clothes from Marks and Sparks”. The problem wasn’t that it might encourage shoplifting, but that it mentioned the shop’s name, and thus constituted a perverse form of advertising. Marks and Sparks was replaced with ‘unlocked cars’ which made no sense at all. None of which stopped Mott having a massive hit.
This typically wry pop classic gave 10cc their first number one hit about a prison riot. Graham Gouldman contributed the rather neat line: “We’ve all got balls and brains, but some’s got balls and chains.” Only to then sacrifice it in the name of fame. Fortunately it remains intact on the album version.
The single Masters of the Universe (sanitised version) at least has the honesty to state its intentions boldly in he song title. It differs from the album version by replacing the word “masturbates” with “vegetates”. The original version is available on the Freaks album.
The Rolling Stones
The Stones were involved in one of the most craven examples of self-censorship when they changed the title of Starfucker to Star Star on the Goat’s head Soup album, which was released on their own record label. They also disguised part of the lyric.
But their most famous climb-down came six years earlier, when they agreed to change their hit “Let’s Spend The Night Together” to “Let’s Spend Some Time Together” when performing it on the high-profile Ed Sullivan Show. Jagger complied, but rolled his eyes heavenwards while singing the changed lyric. British TV had no problem with the original title and lyric, as this clip shows. Ironically, when this footage was broadcast on the BBC recently it was censored – by removing Jimmy Savile’s introduction.
When the Doors were asked to change the words of their smash hit Light My Fire for Ed Sullivan, they agreed to drop the line “girl, we couldn’t get much higher” to placate the show’s sponsors, who were worried about drug connotations. They did this in the rehearsal, but during the live broadcast Jim Morrison sang the original lyric. When informed that they would never do the Sullivan show again, Morrison is said to have replied: “We just ‘did’ Sullivan.”
Costello was booked to perform Less than Zero (under pressure from his record company) on the US show Saturday Night Live. On the night he stopped after a few bars, in order to perform this vitriolic attack on the squares of US radio instead. Shame the song was such a dud.
Bringing things up to date with rap royalty – the singer has pledged to clean up his act out of respect for his newly born daughter Blue Ivy. Furthermore, he made his promise in verse:
Before I got in the game, made a change, and got rich
I didn’t think hard about using the word bitch
I rapped, I flipped it, I sold it, I lived it
Now with my daughter in this world I curse those that give it.