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Censor those trousers! How Alan Titchmarsh’s legs became TV editors’ latest target
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Censor those trousers! How Alan Titchmarsh’s legs became TV editors’ latest target

I wonder how Alan Titchmarsh feels today. On the one hand, footage has surfaced of him on North Korean state television, which has been rebroadcasting episodes of his BBC series Garden Secrets since at least 2022.

On the other, the North Korean government seems to hate him. Well, part of him. Not only have the North Koreans hacked down each hour-long episode to just 15 minutes, drowning out his speaking voice with a mixture of voiceover and instrumental music in the process, but they have also shamed his legs. Thanks to a government ruling that decries denim jeans as a sign of evil American imperialism, Titchmarsh’s legs are blurred out whenever they are on screen. The effect is that Titchmarsh appears as a benign hovering wizard.

Even this is radical. The website KCNA Watch runs a daily livestream of Korean Central TV. Last Friday’s programming, for instance, was largely devoted to factory tours, sparsely attended football matches and agricultural machinery shows. Compared to output like this, the sight of Titchmarsh gently tending to his borders must come off like that banned Jonathan Glazer advert where the devil sells Flake chocolate.

Not that North Korea is the only country that edits foreign media. Two years ago, Manyun Zou, a writer for the website the Pudding, watched 100 episodes of The Big Bang Theory that were broadcast on the Chinese streaming service Youku and noticed that they were riddled with seemingly arbitrary edits. Jokes on the Youku versions were sliced out carelessly, leaving the related canned laughter in place.

Meanwhile, there is a Chinese ruling banning TV shows and films that depict time travel, on the basis that it lacks “positive thoughts and meaning” and can “disrespect history”. As such, you will not find a single episode of Doctor Who on Chinese TV.

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We shouldn’t pretend that such censorship happens only in totalitarian Asian countries. Australia, for instance, has repeatedly banned a particular episode of Peppa Pig. The episode, Mr Skinnylegs, revolves around the young piglets learning that spiders are ultimately harmless visitors in our homes. This is true – if you live in Peppa Pig’s country of origin. If you live in Australia, though, where some spiders can kill you, the episode has a different timbre. Viewed through this lens, Mr Skinnylegs dares children to dice with death.

Of course, Britain is no stranger to berserk censorship. As recently as the 1990s, the British government cracked down on anything that could be thought to be peripherally supportive of the IRA, including documentaries and an episode of the US drama Lou Grant.

Even more strangely, it banned the voices of Irish republicans and loyalist paramilitaries from being broadcast on television or radio. This led to an absurd workaround where these people could be interviewed, but their voices had to be overdubbed by an actor, lest the sound of Gerry Adams’ speaking voice corrupt our brains. You can imagine that, if Adams had gone on television wearing a particularly Irish-looking pair of trousers, the government would have airbrushed those, too. Maybe the North Koreans aren’t so different after all.

Source: theguardian.com