BBC apologises for use of N-word in American Civil War documentary after complaints

Historian Lucy Worsley came under fire for using the racial slur.

Lucy Worsley (American History's Biggest Fibs)

The BBC has issued an apology for Lucy Worsley’s use of a racial slur in a recent documentary about the American Civil War, which offended many viewers.


American History’s Biggest Fibs was first aired on television last year but was recently repeated on BBC Two, where audiences were shocked to hear Worsley say the N-word while quoting John Wilkes Booth.

After President Abraham Lincoln made a speech arguing that Black Americans should have the right to vote, racist Booth is recorded as responding: “That means n***** citizenship. By God, that’s the last speech he will ever make.”

Worsley read the quote uncensored, stating immediately before that Booth’s words come with a “health warning”.

After receiving more than 100 complaints, the BBC has now responded to viewer comments and confirmed that the programme has been re-edited on BBC iPlayer.

A statement reads: “Firstly we understand and we are sorry for any distress caused to any of our audience by language included in the programme. We recognise it is an offensive term and one that is rarely included in our output.

“We assess all content we broadcast on a case by case basis taking into consideration a range of factors including the programme and the context.

“This film was the second episode of a history series originally shown on BBC Four last year and it explored the American Civil War, featuring contributions from a number of African American scholars.”

The continuity announcement before the programme aired warned viewers of the content, which was included to provide historical context.

The statement continues: “The language used in Wilkes Booth’s statement was included to indicate the strength of his views and his attitude towards African Americans – racist views shared by many at that period in America’s history.”

However, the broadcaster has promised that it will be “strengthening guidance on offensive language“, following another recent incident where a BBC journalist repeated the same racial slur during a news report.

Worsley herself apologised for using the highly offensive term in a tweet earlier this month.

After a fellow Twitter user challenged her on her use of the word, Worsley replied: “You’re right, @therealpetraamp, it wasn’t acceptable and I apologise.”


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