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Government Censors Brand Classic Second World War Drama ‘Racist’

1944: Neighbours wave and cheer as they watch a young soldier being welcomed home from the Second World War by his wife and baby.
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VIRGINIA HALE

A family-run television channel specialising in vintage British programmes is in trouble after the regulator ruled a Second World War drama unacceptably ‘racist’.

Talking Pictures TV, an independent archive film and TV channel watched by two million people a week, was rebuked by Ofcom for declining to censor the word ‘wog’ from A Family at War, an acclaimed 1970s drama which looked at the lives of a lower middle-class family from Liverpool during the Second World War.

The digital TV channel argued that while the language was offensive, it reflected attitudes of some people during that era, and said that masking the word — which is used by an unsympathetic character — would have “undermined the moral of the episode”, according to The Times.

But Ofcom, which launched its investigation reportedly after receiving just one complaint, found Talking Pictures TV to be in breach of the broadcasting code and summoned its executives to a formal meeting.

Sarah Cronin-Stanley, who founded Talking Pictures TV three years ago with her husband Neill and father Noel, said they did not want to offend viewers, and would be “devastated” if they had inadvertently caused upset, but warned censorship of vintage programmes risks rewriting history and treating their audience like children.

“Anybody that watches our channel knows that we’re nostalgic, we’re looking back in time,” she said.

“If you’re watching films from the Fifties, Sixties or Seventies they will show attitudes that were relevant then.

“We know that people who make a decision to watch a nostalgic channel will be well-versed in hearing things that are of the time. Sometimes it’s good to look back on where we came from to help us know where we are now.”

The classic film enthusiast said while Ofcom told Talking Pictures TV it must show viewers trigger warnings that material “may contain outdated racial stereotyping” before broadcasting potentially offensive programmes, the channel received more complaints when it placed offensive language warnings than it did over the words themselves.

Staunchly defending its ruling, Ofcom noted the episode of A Family at War was aired before the watershed and pointed to the fact the offending character “was not challenged” by other characters in the show over his use of racial language.

Commenting on the ruling, Times media correspondent Matthew Moore said the regulator’s policies are based on research into what UK viewers regard as unacceptable.

The study, which was conducted in 2016, found that British audiences are fairly tolerant of swearing, and consider the most offensive type of language to be racist or “discriminatory” words.

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