Radio 1 to air censored version of Pogues' Fairytale of New York

Offensive words in the Christmas song to be removed or altered for Radio 1, but remain unchanged on Radio 2

BBC Radio 1 is to air a censored version of the Pogues’ Fairytale of New York that removes the words “faggot” and “slut” from Kirsty MacColl’s verse. Radio 2 will continue to air the original version, while 6 Music will allow its DJs to choose the version they wish to play.

The BBC said: “We know the song is considered a Christmas classic and we will continue to play it this year, with our radio stations choosing the version of the song most relevant for their audience,” suggesting sensitivity over the words varies between Radio 1’s younger audience and the older listeners of Radio 2.

Adopting the characters of an argumentative but sentimental married couple, MacColl sings to Shane MacGowan: “You scumbag, you maggot / You cheap lousy faggot / Happy Christmas your arse / I pray God it’s our last.”

The new Radio 1 version will have the line “you’re cheap and you’re haggard”, with the word “slut” earlier in the verse silenced. The rest of the song remains unchanged.

MacGowan defended the song in 2018, saying: “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.”

On its release in 1987, he explained: “My part is the man who’s got kicked out of the drunk tank on Christmas Eve night. His wife’s in hospital. She’s ill, and he’s just out of his skull. Then they’re having a row and he keeps on bringing it on back to the good times and she keeps handing out all the shit. I haven’t got anything in common with the actual part that I’m singing – Yul Brynner isn’t really the King of Siam – except in the sense that I’ve had arguments with women and it’s usually ended up with some kind of reconciliation.”

The song has frequently attracted controversy. The issue was revisited last year after an uncensored version of the song featured prominently in the Christmas special of Gavin and Stacey, a hit with families, which exposed the lyrics to many surprised younger listeners for the first time.

In 1987, the BBC opposed the word “arse” being aired on Top of the Pops, with MacColl singing “ass” in its place.

In a 1992 return performance, MacColl sang “you’re cheap and you’re haggard”, while a 2000 cover version by Ronan Keating and Maire Brennan altered the line to “you’re mean and you’re haggard”.

In 2007, Radio 1 dubbed out the words “faggot” and “slut”, but made a U-turn, with controller Andy Parfitt saying the decision was “wrong … Radio 1 does not play homophobic lyrics or condone bullying of any kind. It is not always easy to get this right.”

Last year, BBC Radio Solent DJ Alex Dyke announced he was banning Fairytale of New York from his show, calling it “a nasty, nasty song”.


Ben Beaumont-Thomas

The GuardianTramp

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