STRANGLING ANIMALS IS JUST FINE(08/03/2007)
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On TV censorship and Michael Palin's diaries
CATALONIA TODAY – SECTION: LONG-TERM RESIDENT - ARTICLE FORTY-SIX
For Christmas, I was given the diaries of Michael Palin, a key member of Monty Python's Flying Circus, the 1970s BBC comedy series whose influence has extended all over the world in the course of the last thirty years (Catalonia included, as watchers of TV3's 'Polònia' well know). However, anyone hoping to discover the creative processes that led to internationally imitated sketches such as 'The Cheese Shop' or the liberating blockbuster 'The Life of Brian', will not get so much as a jot of insight from Palin's 600 pages. Ranging in scope from the commonplace to the mundane, Palin spills not a single bean: the weather, his meals, superficially described script meetings, and his idyllically static private life make up the bulk of the book.
Just one revelation lurks amidst all this surface detail: the astonishing degree of censorship exercised by UK and US television at the time. For example, in a Python parody of a quiz show, one of the contestants had his hobbies listed as 'golf, strangling animals and masturbating'. The BBC vetoed the most universal of these three pastimes. On another occasion, the BBC green-lighted one 'piss off' but warned that two would be 'excessive'.
The Americans were stricter to the point of parody: ABC, for example, removed the word 'bitch' when referring to a dog.
Such censorship, of course, is still with us – for proof, we need look no further than Spanish and Catalan television - waging war on anything that both shocks and delights: 'anything to do with life' as comic author Douglas Adams put it. So I have no qualms in using this modest platform of a column to tell TV censors everywhere, once and for all, that they should quite simply piss off. Twice, if necessary.