BBC to play edited version of Fairytale of New York this Christmas to avoid offending younger listeners

Tory MP anger: Kirsty MacColl and Shane MacGowan originally sang 'Fairytale of New York'. (Tim Roney/Getty Images)

BBC Radio 1 announced Thursday morning (19 November) that it will play “an alternative” version of “Fairytale of New York” in case its younger audiences are offended by its infamous homophobic lyric.

The Pogues’ 1987 song, regularly rated as the nation’s favourite festive song, is also regularly plunged into controversy for its inclusion of’ “faggot” in one of its lyrics.

Yes, it’s only November and the tinderbox debate around this decades-old song has already been sparked. Merry Christmas!

The station said in a statement to PinkNews that it will air a tweaked version of the song co-sung by singer Kirsty MacColl, who herself was a veteran when it comes to swerving the homophobic lyric, provided by record label Pogue Mahone.

The BBC said in a statement: “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.”

PinkNews understands that the move was based on the BBC’s belief that younger listeners, which are BBC Radio 1‘s target demographic, do not like the derogatory terms of sexuality and gender in the song.

This is rather than simply blotting the term out because it’s, well, deeply homophobic.

To air the word ‘faggot’ in Fairytale of New York or not, that is the question posed to radio stations by the BBC. 

Within the BBC’s rafter of other radio stations, the broadcaster said that BBC Radio 2, which airs adult contemporary music such as 1970s soft rock, will play the original version of “Fairytale of New York”.

While alternative music specialist BBC Radio 6 Music will let individual presenters and disc-jockeys decide to play the song. The broadcaster stressed that it is not banning the song, and all stations are free to play the track.

But in pre-empting the response from each station’s audiences, and the risk to ratings such a response could pose, the BBC has demonstrated just how much of a culture war the song has become in Britain.

Indeed, it comes after the BBC One comedy show, Gavin & Stacey, inflamed old grievances about the song last year as it showed two characters do a karaoke version of the song and belt out “faggot” for all LGBT+ people tucking into turkeys on the couch to hear.

In broadcasting the outdated slur to more than 11.6 million viewers, the move divided viewers. Some decried what would have been a hallmarked opportunity to reinvent the festive song while others, mainly non-LGBT+ folk, shrugged it off as “just a song”.