BBC playing censored “Fairytale of New York” this year; The Pogues approve
The BBC has announced that flagship radio station Radio 1 will not play the original version of The Pogues' "Fairytale of New York" this holiday season. Instead, they'll be playing a censored version, with alternate lyrics sung by the late Kirsty Maccoll who duets with Shane MacGowan on the 1987 hit. The alternate version, which first aired on BBC's Top of the Pops in 1992, has Maccoll singing "You're cheap and you're haggard" in place of the homophobic slur from the original. "We know the song is considered a Christmas classic," a BBC spokesman said, "and we will continue to play it this year, with our radio stations choosing the version of the song most relevant for their audience."
According to BBC News, "Radio 1 has decided younger listeners who are unfamiliar with the track would find some of the words stark and not in line with what they would expect to hear on air."
The original version of "Fairytale of New York" will still air on Radio 2, and DJs on the BBC's streaming/satellite station, 6 Music, can choose between the original and the alternate version. The alternate version also silences the word "slut" sung by MacGowan.
The song, which has been a hit more than once since being released 33 years ago (including now; it's currently #57 on the UK singles chart), has been controversial from the start. There were calls to censor the song in 2018, but the BBC ultimately decided to play the original version after public outcry. At the time, frontman Shane MacGowan said:
The word was used by the character because it fitted with the way she would speak and with her character. She is not supposed to be a nice person, or even a wholesome person.
She is a woman of a certain generation at a certain time in history, and she is down on her luck and desperate. Her dialogue is as accurate as I could make it, but she is not intended to offend.
She is just supposed to be an authentic character and not all characters in songs and stories are angels or even decent and respectable. Sometimes characters in songs and stories have to be evil or nasty in order to tell the story effectively.
The Pogues have not made an official statement on Radio 1's decision, but they did retweet Radio 1's statement without comment. When queer and culture writer Harrison Brocklehurst tweeted "This is all I’m gonna say on it for the whole year: the word itself being in Fairytale Of New York doesn’t bother or offend me, but straight people being so angry & outraged at its removal and literally fighting and arguing for the right to sing it bothers me deeply" they quoted-tweeted, writing only "This". They did the same for Bethany Black's tweet: “We’ve decided not to play Fairytale of New York out of respect for LGBT people, in other news the Govt have axed funding for anti LGBT Bullying programs in school.”
And in reply to right-wing commentator Laurence Fox's tweet of "Here we go again. The cultural commissars at the @bbc are telling you what is and isn’t appropriate for your ignorant little ears. Wouldn’t it be nice if we sent the (proper) version to the top of the charts?" they wrote "Fuck off you little herrenvolk shite."
In 2019, characters on BBC sitcom Gavin & Stacey sang the original lyrics on the holiday episode of the series which resulted in hundreds of complaints.
You can watch the 1992 Top of the Pops performance below.