Several years ago, TOTP2 featured Oliver's Army by Elvis Costello. The phrase, "one more bullet, one less white nigger" had mysteriously disappeared. I complained to the BBC about this censorship and received quite a sympathetic reply.Hmm, interesting.
You see, by then I'd already stumbled on another piece of linguistic censorship during one of my occasional rambles around YouTube's vast collection of music clips.
I bought this record back then (65p from an unlabelled wooden cubby hole behind a counter where only the shop owner knew which chart hit was which), and I remember watching Geldof and chums on TOTP when they recorded this performance. I didn't notice until last week, though, that the lyrics had been subtlely changed.
At around one minute in (if you're impatient, though I'd recommend watching the whole thing) the lyric "And pus and grime ooze from its scab crusted sores" was replaced with "And blood and tears pour down the drains and the sewers". Now, I'm pretty sure that someone who was labelled a 'punk' at the time and would later not be afraid to order "give us yer fucking money" on TV or to make demands of Margaret Thatcher, wouldn't be voluntarily squeamish about uttering 'pus', 'grime', 'scab', and 'sores' on telly. So one must assume it was an alteration forced on them by an overly-sensitive BBC.
If I recall correctly, Oliver's Army was in the charts at around the same time, yet in the late 70s Nanny Beeb were obviously less worried about an artist using 'nigger' than lurid lyrical descriptions of urban deprivation.
They were also not too concerned by Geldof's unconvincing pretend saxophone solo, but just a few years later were to ban the original video for Billy Ocean's When The Going Gets Tough for featuring Danny DeVito comedically faking it on the sax.
Censorship of artistic performance, sadly, will always be with us, but the words or ideas which are targeted seem to be just as motivated by current trends and tastes as the music itself.
Fortunately - as the professionally-offended should surely have worked out by now - such meddling always, but always, ends up making fools of the censors while making loads of cash for the censored.
Who can ever forget how Frankie Goes To Hollywood were 'made' by Mike Read's banning of Relax, or how Je T'Aime ... Moi Non Plus rocketed to number 1 when deemed too racy to be heard on British radio? Similarly, Dire Straits are now enjoying a huge revival of fortune - and a boost to their bank balances - thanks to the quite astounding idiocy of righteous offence-seekers.
In this area, more than any other, it proves that the natural default position of any population is a libertarian one. Rather than enjoying being told what is best for them by those who have decided they know everything - and falling obediently into line - the natural reaction is always to actively rebel against being issued with overweening advice.
Now, if we could just illustrate to a generally bovine public that they should be equally mistrusting of authoritarian, highly-paid, vested interest dickery in other spheres ...