Libby Purves criticises BBC’s ‘misguided’ move to clean up old shows

Show caption Libby Purves presented Today and Midweek on Radio 4. Photograph: Rolf Marriott/BBC/PA BBC Libby Purves criticises BBC’s ‘misguided’ move to clean up old shows Broadcaster says lines now deemed offensive should be kept intact to show ‘how far we have come’ Jamie Grierson @JamieGrierson Tue 8 Mar 2022 06.01 GMT Share on Facebook

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Libby Purves, the former BBC Radio 4 Today presenter, has criticised the corporation for editing archived programmes to remove content deemed offensive, arguing that the cuts are “misguided quixotism”.

The public broadcaster has been editing radio shows including Dad’s Army, Steptoe and Son and I’m Sorry, I’ll Read That Again to remove racially insensitive and politically incorrect jokes, the Times revealed earlier this year.

Examples included a repeat of a 1971 episode of Steptoe and Son, which was edited to cut the word “poofy” from a line in which Albert Steptoe said: “You’re carrying on like some poofy Victorian poet.” A similar snip was made to a 1974 Dad’s Army episode in which Corporal Jones referred to Chinese people as “yellow friends”.

Writing in Radio Times magazine, Purves, who also hosted Midweek on BBC Radio 4, said she had “joined the outcry” at the BBC’s editing, and that while she was sure it was well intentioned there was “no obvious end to such misguided quixotism”. She said outdated sitcom jokes should be kept intact to demonstrate how society has changed.

She wrote: “Why dishonestly take a smoothing iron to old jokes, gentrify the crumbly old edifices that sheltered generations from the dull hardness of life? Why would a world that anxiously preserves the jejune wall-scrawls of Banksy be so cavalier with its grandparents’ record? It can’t affect us now.

“It’s actually refreshing to be made to cringe: it shows how far we have come, and makes anyone thoughtful wonder which current expressions will shock our grandchildren. I think the insulting catch-all ‘BAME’ will, for instance; as will our mad readiness to throw ‘racist’ as an insult where it isn’t deserved.”

Purves has previously railed against wokeism, often called “cancel culture”, one of the many fronts to the so-called culture wars.

Writing in the Times last year, Purves said the spirit of Mary Whitehouse, the Conservative activist who campaigned against the media and arts in the 60s and 70s for encouraging a more “permissive” society, was back in the form of “woke” censorship.

“Today’s Whitehousery has the same blind, angry piety but with a fresh twist of punitive sadism,” she wrote. “Its hair-trigger instinct will ‘call out’ racism, sexism, ableism, privilege, ‘transphobia’ or implied insensitivity. It demands not just censorship but vengeance: one wrong word and a manager must resign, an author be boycotted, a broadcaster fined or some powerless Twitter nonentity vilified.”

The BBC has been approached for comment.