August 27, 2019
The 1975 sitcom is one of a selection of cultural touchstones suggested by a thinktank – but it all seems rather narrowAsk a random British person over the age of 30 if they can locate the origins of the phrase “don’t mention the war” and I’d hazard that most would guess correctly. Most British people of a certain age have seen, or at least heard of, Basil Fawlty’s guesthouse goosestep in the famous Fawlty Towers episode The Germans. It is a fundamental part of our comedy culture. So perhaps it’s no surprise that Fawlty Towers has been suggested as a candidate for a new TV channel proposed by the thinktank British Future in order to help migrants familiarise themselves with English, and English culture. Only Fools and Horses, Midsomer Murders, and Simon Schama’s History of Britain have also been recommended.
A TV channel to teach migrants English is a great idea. But Fawlty Towers? Really? | Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett
And yet, these apparent cultural touchstones seem to me somewhat narrow – both from the standpoints of age, and nationality (you may note my use of “English culture” in the preceding paragraph). Only Fools and Horses has never really spoken to me in the same way as has say, Kevin Allen’s dark comedic masterpiece Twin Town, set in Swansea (“buy your own fucking glue”), or the hen do scene in Gavin and Stacey, but then I grew up in Wales. The suggestions for the new channel seem to connote a particular vision of Englishness that is no longer as culturally relevant as a flick through the Mail or an afternoon with UKTV Gold might imply. And yes, it suggests a rather white, middle-England, middle-class outlook, and is, well, a bit too close to some Brexiters’ version of the country.
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