Very fine people

 

© The Independent

 

Thank you, Grand Wizard Trump, for that enlightening and perceptive press conference you gave on Tuesday in which you set the record straight about the previous weekend’s events in Charlottesville, Virginia.

 

In my wide-eyed, libtard, snowflaky naivete, I’d thought the violence in Charlottesville had been the result of some bad guys: Nazi white-supremacists marching around with swastika-emblazoned flags, swastikas being the symbol of people who sent six million of their fellow human beings to the gas chambers during World War II.  That sounds pretty bad, right?  At Charlottesville, they were challenged by some good guys: counter-protesters who took exception to the Nazis and their genocidal ideology.  That sounds like a good thing to do, right?  The bad guys reacted badly to being challenged by the good guys, to the point where one of them drove a car into a group of counter-protesters, killing one person and injuring 19 others.  Not only did that seem like a very bad action, but some folk argued that it qualified as terrorism.  However, some other folk disagreed, since the perpetrator wasn’t a Muslim and he only did non-terroristy things like idolize Adolf Hitler.

 

However, now that Führer Trump has explained in fluent and convincing detail what really happened at Charlottesville, I stand corrected.  You see, he knows “a lot about Charlottesville” because, as he pointed out, he has a winery there.  (“I own actually one of the largest wineries in the United States that’s in Charlottesville.”)  So we can take his pronouncements as truth.  I now realize that the Nazis weren’t such a bad lot because there were many “very fine people” among their ranks.  Furthermore, they could “innocently protest” and “very legally protest” because “they had a permit”.  There were a few bad eggs among those Nazis, of course.  But let’s not forget “there’s blame on both sides” because those pesky meddling anti-Nazi demonstrators (“you can call them the left” or “alt-left”) had a contingent “that was also very violent” and “came charging, with clubs in their hands, swinging clubs” and “were very, very violent” and “it was a horrible thing to watch.”  They were “troublemakers and you see them come with the black outfits and with the helmets and with the clubs.”  Plus they “came charging in without a permit.”

 

Oddly enough, Reichsmarschall Trump’s wise words have not been well received by American politicians of both Democrat and Republican persuasions who’ve spent the past two days tweeting their dismay at him.  But David Duke, boss of the KKK – that’s the Ku Klux Klan, whom I hear are a wee bit racist, but I’m sure many of their members are actually very fine people – did tweet admiringly: “Thank you President Trump for your honesty and courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville and condemn the leftist terrorists.”

 

Now that the scales have finally been removed from my eyes about the Nazis, thanks to Il Duce Trump, and now that I understand how they included many fine people and only did Nazi-type things when they had a permit to do so, I can revisit all the Nazi-related pieces of popular culture that I grew up with and view them in a new light.  For example:

 

© Ealing Studios

 

Let George Do It!  (1940)

German Führer Adolf Hitler has a permit to very innocently and legally give a speech at a Nuremburg Rally attended by thousands of Nazis, who include some very fine people.  Suddenly, however, the notorious alt-left music-hall troublemaker and all-round bad hombre George Formby shins down a rope from a passing balloon and gives a blood-curdling Marxist cry of “I’ll knock your block off!”  Then he charges in with a cheeky grin and with a Wigan accent and with a ukulele in his hand and punches the poor Führer on the chin.  After President Trump apportions blame to both sides, Adolf Hitler tweets: “Thank you President Trump for your honesty and courage to tell the truth about #GeorgeFormby and condemn the leftist Lancashire terrorist.”

 

© Penguin Books

 

Moonraker (1955)

Fanatical Social Justice Warrior / feminazi / ecofascist James Bond of the alt-left terrorist outfit MI6 is directed by his boss M (short for ‘Mao’, presumably) to be very, very violent towards Hugo Drax, who’s a Trumpian multimillionaire, the former head of a German Nazi commando unit and a very fine person.  Nasty Bond comes charging in with his licence to kill and with his shaken-not-stirred-vodka-and-martini and with his twangy Monty Norman theme tune and messes up Drax’s plan, which he has a permit for, signed by himself, to fire a nuclear missile at Londonistan and sort out its Muslim mayor with fire and fury.   It’s a horrible thing to watch.

 

© Associated British Pathé

 

Ice Cold in Alex (1958)

Alt-left troublemakers Johnny ‘Guevara’ Mills, Harry ‘Ho Chi Minh’ Andrews and Sylvia ‘Osamu’ Sims commandeer an ambulance and in a cold-blooded act of terrorism drive it straight into the middle of Rommel’s Afrika Korps, which contains some very fine people.  Luckily, because this is the eastern Sahara, they miss their targets, who are innocently and legally attacking Tobruk, by several miles.  Then the thirsty terrorists head for Alexandria to have a beer and link up with ISIS.  “Worth waiting for!” declares Mills at the end, no doubt referring to the overthrow of capitalism.

 

© United Artists

 

The Great Escape (1963)

It’s 1943 in peaceful, neighbourly Nazi Germany.  A rabble of leftist terrorists, whose codenames include such sinister monikers as Big X, The Forger, The Scrounger, The Tunnel King and Eric Ashley-Pitt, bust out of a high-security detention camp set up by the Nazis, who include some very fine people, and terrorise the surrounding countryside.  One alt-left troublemaker called The Cooler King commandeers a motorbike and in a cold-blooded act of terrorism drives it straight into the middle of an innocent Swiss-border fence.  Finally, the Gestapo round up 50 escapees and machine-gun them all to death, which is okay because they have a permit.  “There’s blame on both sides,” comments President Trump.

 

© BBC

 

Dad’s Army (1973)

A sinister alt-left collective known as the Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard come charging in with some M1917 Enfield rifles and with a butcher’s van and with a variety of comic catchphrases and take hostage the crew of a Nazi-Germany U-Boat, who include some very fine people and who have a permit, signed by Adolf Hitler, to innocently and legally torpedo and sink large amounts of British shipping.  The sadistic and arthritic leftist troublemakers goad their victims by singing the blood-curdling Marxist anthem, “Whistle while you work / Hitler is a twerp / He’s half-barmy / So his army…”  It’s a horrible thing to hear.

 

*****

 

But seriously – seriously – I can only surmise that the reason why Trump was so keen to give those Nazis / white supremacists / KKK / alt-right goons a friendly nod and wink, as if to say, “Don’t worry, guys, I’m on your side, really,” is because so many of them showed up at Charlottesville armed to the teeth and wearing militia uniforms.  He must be hoping that if the House Committee and the Judiciary ever get around to impeaching him, his swastika-bearing admirers will swarm out onto the streets, start shooting people and mount a coup d’etat to save him.

 

Meanwhile, I’m bemused by how so many British right-wingers have been jumping to Trump’s defence and / or shouting “It’s none of our business what happens in America!” on social media.  These are people with avatars that show Union Jacks and with profiles that express their love for UKIP and Brexit.  You know, the sort of folk who normally never shut up about how plucky little Britain fought off the Nazis during World War II.

 

Oh well.  Here’s a clip of George Formby’s finest 50 seconds.  Go on, George.  Lamp the bastard.

 

Don’t remake it, Pike!

 

(c) BBC

 

The other day I read a piece by Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian that was ostensibly about Nigel Farage and his daft-but-unpleasant political party, the United Kingdom Independence Party.  However, unexpectedly, Freedland also made some telling comments about the beloved old BBC sitcom Dad’s Army.  Freedland tried to compare Nigel Farage’s situation (in charge of a party of misfits and eccentrics) and his mentality (anti-EU, anti-immigrant, permanently under siege) with those of Captain Mainwaring, the pompous and beleaguered bank manager in Dad’s Army who’s in charge of a platoon of part-time and over-the-hill Home Guardsmen in an English coastal town called Walmington-on-Sea during the bleakest days of World War II – when Hitler’s forces are parked just across the Channel.

 

Of Dad’s Army itself, Freedland observed: “I have written before of 1940 as the creation myth of modern Britain, that defining moment when the country stood alone to fight Nazi Germany.  What is curious is that for so long this myth was not distilled or advanced through a great monument or ceremony, a symphony or grand sculpture, but through a modest, if brilliant, sitcom about a bunch of old guys huffing and puffing their ways through drills, parades and the occasional false alarm.

 

“From 1968 to 1977, and through decades of repeats ever since, Dad’s Army became the chief depiction of Britain’s wartime experience…  Britons who would struggle to name a single regiment that fought the decisive battles of that conflict can instantly identify the gentle amateurs of the Home Guard.”

 

Freedland pointed out that while other countries commemorate World War II more earnestly and lavishly – the USA continues to crank out Hollywood epics about the conflict like Saving Private Ryan (1998), Flags of our Fathers (2006), Inglourious Basterds (2009) and this year’s Fury – the gentle comedy of Dad’s Army seems to have become the UK’s preferred cultural statement about it.  Maybe, he suggested, it’s because the show possesses a very self-depreciating sense of humour; which is also a very British sense of humour.

 

(http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/10/nigel-farage-captain-mainwaring-ukip-dads-army)

 

Freedland may be right.  However, with Dad’s Army, I’ve always been more interested in the things that most people tend to overlook about the show.  Everyone goes on about the characters’ buffoonery and endlessly quote their catchphrases (“Stupid boy!”, “Don’t panic!”, “They don’t like it up them!”, etc.), but there’s much more happening with them beneath the comic surface.  And those characters’ complexity is testimony to the talents of the show’s writers, Jimmy Perry and David Croft.

 

For all his pomposity, Arthur Lowe’s Captain Mainwaring is someone tormented by a sense of inferiority.  He’s lower-middle class and – with the society around him still strongly class-based – he’s painfully aware of it.  This is underlined by his dealings with the languidly aristocratic Sergeant Wilson, played by John Le Mesurier, who despite being his subordinate in rank manages somehow to undermine him every time he opens his mouth.  (“Do you think that’s wise, sir?”)  And despite Wilson’s obvious problem that he’s much too posh to be a sergeant – “Would you mind awfully falling in, please?” he tells the men – the platoon-members prefer him to the blustering Mainwaring.

 

Then there’s the issue of Wilson’s relationship with the working-class Mrs Mavis Pike (Janet Davies), whose teenaged son Frank (Ian Lavender) is the only person who’s in the platoon because he’s too young to do military service.  Despite their difference in social class, Wilson lodges with them and is clearly sharing a bed with Mrs Pike – to the scandal of the town – while he maintains a slightly uncomfortable relationship with Frank, who calls him ‘Uncle Arthur’.  Perry and Croft did tell interviewers that, in their minds, Wilson was Frank’s biological father.

 

While the excitable Corporal Jones, played by Clive Dunn, is the show’s main source of slapstick, there’s actually a lot going on with him too.  He might make a constant fool of himself but, as the local butcher and the man who hands out the meat rations, he wields a lot of power.  He’s also, in his doddery way, something of a ladies’ man — he’s in his element when the housewives of Walmington-on-Sea are in his shop, trying to wheedle some extra meat-cuts out of him.  No wonder that in the show’s final episode in 1977, he ends up marrying the glamorous, if bulky, local widow Mrs Fox (Pamela Clundell).

 

And there’s the story behind the platoon’s First Aid supervisor and most venerable member, the kindly but slightly befuddled (and beset by bladder problems) Private Godfrey, played by actor and playwright Arnold Ridley.  He’s patronised by the others as an effete softy and the fact that he was a conscientious objector during World War I doesn’t win him any respect either.  It’s later discovered that he served in the Royal Army Medical Corps and won a medal for saving several soldiers’ lives during the Battle of the Somme – something that Godfrey is too modest and gentlemanly to ever talk about.  (In real life, Ridley had fought in the Battle of the Somme and sustained a barrage of injuries, including shrapnel in the legs and a bayonet in the groin.)

 

I don’t remember there being much depth to the platoon’s resident Scotsman, the dark, sly, conniving, pessimistic and utterly dour Private Fraser who, appropriately enough, works during the day as the town’s undertaker.  But played by the great John Laurie, Frazer has become a cultural stereotype like no other.  Even today, if a Scotsman is out in company in England and says something to the effect that things are not as peachy as everyone thinks they are, the company will instinctively recite Frazer’s catchphrase back at him: “We’re doomed…  All doomed!”

 

Anyway, Dad’s Army has been in the headlines recently because plans are afoot to remake it as feature film with a big-name British cast in the roles made popular by Lowe, Le Mesurier, Dunn and the others.  Some of that casting makes sense.  It’s a stroke of genius to have Bill Nighy playing Sergeant Wilson and I’m sure Bill Paterson and Daniel Mays could do great things with, respectively, the roles of Private Frazer and the spiv, Private Walker.  However, I suspect that Toby Jones – who’s an actor I greatly admire – is not quite right for the role of Captain Mainwaring and I’m not convinced by the prospect of Sir Tom Courtenay playing Corporal Jones, either.

 

As for the proposal that Sir Michael Gambon should play the gentle, pacifistic Private Godfrey…  Well, I’m sorry, but when I think of Gambon I picture him as the monstrous gangster in Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1989), stabbing a woman in the face with a fork when she becomes irritating at his restaurant table.  Which isn’t a very Private Godfrey thing to do.

 

But what worries me much more about this cinematic remake of Dad’s Army is the comedy credentials of the people behind it.  Director Oliver Parker is the man responsible for those dire updates of the St Trinian’s movies made in 2007 and 2009.  Scriptwriter Hamish McColl’s past form hasn’t been any better, as he penned Mr Bean’s Holiday (2007) and Johnny English Reborn (2011), both of which starred Rowan Atkinson, a man who was last funny in 1989’s Blackadder Goes Forth.  Parker also directed the Johnny English movie.

 

Meanwhile, a synopsis of the film’s plot, which to quote the BBC news website “will see (Catherine) Zeta-Jones play a glamorous journalist sent to report on the Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard before MI5 discovers there is a German spy in the fictional British town”, does nothing to persuade me that the film will be anything other than gimmicky, lowest-common-denominator pap.  Actually, it makes my heart sink.

 

Mind you, I also read recently that a reboot is being planned of another fondly-remembered ensemble-comedy piece, the 1980s Ghostbusters movies.  However, there’s a twist.  This will be a female reboot of Ghostbusters, with actresses in the roles made popular by Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd and company.  So if Dad’s Army has to be remade, why not do it as an all-female version as well?  Why not have women playing those old characters we remember so well and love so much?  Here, then, are my suggestions for the cast of a female Dad’s Army:

 

Dame Judi Dench as Captain Mainwaring.

Dame Helen Mirren as Sergeant Wilson.

Alison Steadman as Corporal Jones.

Annette Crosby as Private Fraser.

Olivia Coleman as Private Walker.

Juno Temple as Private Pike.

Imelda Stanton as Warden Hodges.

Penelope Wilton as the Vicar.

Kathy Burke as the Verger.

Joanna Lumley as Captain Square.

Miranda Hart as Private Sponge.

Tilda Swinton as the U-Boat skipper.

And of course…  Joan Collins as Private Godfrey.

 

(c) The Guardian

(c) BBC