Censoring Monty Python's final show was idiotic
Published 22/07/2014 | 11:54
It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, the chance to see the Monty Python troupe live in their final show at London's O2 arena, the last time they'd ever perform together as a unit, without having to set foot outside your front door.
British channel Gold was one of the countless broadcasters to carry last night's simulcast to an estimated television audience of 50 million people. Meanwhile, the live feed was also available in selected cinemas.
For those of us who couldn't get our hands on seats for any of the shows, or who couldn't manage to get a to a cinema showing it, Gold had delivered a golden ticket. It might not have equated to the best seat in the house (that would have been in the front row, close enough to count John Cleese's nose hairs) but it meant you weren't going to miss a single second of this historic performance.
Except we did miss some of it - and more than mere seconds, too. Just minutes into the show, which started at 7.30pm, an hour-and-a-half before the television watershed, chunks of dialogue were rendered inaudible by a beep. Not just any beep, either, but the shrillest, whiniest, most grating beep you'll ever hear in your life.
At first it seemed like a minor technical glitch; by the time Eric Idle got to The Penis Song, it was clear what was happening: the show was being censored.
One routine was obliterated entirely when the broadcast cut away to a pre-recorded item featuring Michael Palin in drag, explaining why the television audience weren't allowed to see it (although there were no such interruptions for those watching in cinemas).
Nobody who'd settled down to enjoy a unique television experience had seen this coming. There had been no advance warnings of the on-the-hoof edits. It wasn't until the interval that Dara O'Briain, who presented the broadcast, explained that Ofcom, British television's regulatory body, was behind it.
Ofcom (or "effing Ofcom" as it was briefly renamed in our house) decided some of the show's content breached its pre-watershed guidelines. If Gold had refused to kowtow to its demands, it would have been heftily fined. The post-watershed second half of the show was broadcast without interference. While the censoring didn't completely ruin the whole evening, it certainly marred our enjoyment.
Gold repeated the show last night, with the missing content reinstated, but that's hardly a substitute for the thrill of of being part of a live communal TV event.
Ofcom's intervention raises bigger questions about censorship versus the freedom. Gold is not a public service broadcaster. Unlike RTE or the BBC, it's not automatically beamed into every licence-payer's household. If you want it, you have to pay for it.
I'm not advocating completely unregulated, anything-goes television. Common sense rather than prudishness or morality tells you that would be disastrous. We have to have some boundaries. But it's not like viewers didn't know what to expect from t3eh show.
Besides, time has rendered the Python's material tame compared to what you'd find on BBC3 or Channel 4, both of which are free-to-air. Wouldn't on-screen warnings before and during the show not have sufficed?
Looking on the bright side of life, hardcore Python fans in Ireland will appreciate the irony of OFcom not censuring the hilarious Every Sperm is Sacred routine (complete with penis-shaped cannons) from the team's final film The Meaning of Life, which, like Life of Brian, was initially banned in this country
Maybe the people at Ofcom never got around to catching that particular movie.