Posts Tagged ‘Music Hall’

Why Did British Public Opinion Turn Against the Empire?

August 10, 2022

The British empire and its history is once again the topic of intense controversy with claims that its responsible for racism, the continuing poverty and lack of development of Commonwealth nations and calls for the decolonisation of British museums and the educational curriculum. On the internet news page just this morning is a report that Tom Daley has claimed that homophobia is a legacy of the British empire. He has a point, as when the British government was reforming the Jamaican legal code in the late 19th century, one of the clauses they inserted criminalised homosexuality.,

In fact this is just the latest wave of controversy and debate over the empire and its legacy. There were similar debates in the ’90s and in the early years of this century. And the right regularly laments popular hostility to British imperialism. For right-wing commenters like Niall Ferguson and the Black American Conservative economist Thomas Sowell, British imperialism also had positive benefits in spreading democracy, property rights, properly administered law and modern technology and industrial organisation around the world. These are fair points, and it must be said that neither of these two writers ignore the fact that terrible atrocities were committed under British imperialism either. Sowell states that the enforced labour imposed on indigenous Africans was bitterly resented and that casualties among African porters could be extremely high.

But I got the impression that at the level of the Heil, there’s a nostalgia for the empire as something deeply integral to British identity and that hostility or indifference to it counts as a serious lack of patriotism.

But what did turn popular British opinion against the empire, after generations when official attitudes, education and the popular media held it up as something of which Britons should be immensely proud, as extolled in music hall songs, holidays like Empire Day and books like The Baby Patriot’s ABC, looked through a few years ago by one of the Dimblebys on a history programme a few years ago.

T.O. Lloyd in his academic history book, Empire to Welfare State, connects it to a general feeling of self hatred in the early 1970s, directed not just against the empire, but also against businessmen and politicians:

”Further to the left, opinion was even less tolerant; when Heath in 1973 referred to some exploits of adroit businessmen in avoiding tax as ‘the unacceptable face of capitalism’, the phase was taken up and repeated as though he had intended it to apply to the whole of capitalism, which was certainly not what he meant.

‘Perhaps it was surprising that his remark attracted so much attention, for it was not a period in which politicians received much respect. Allowing for the demands of caricature, a good deal of the public mood was caught by the cartoons of Gerald Scarfe, who drew in a style of brilliant distortion which made it impossible to speak well of anyone. The hatred of all men holding authority that was to be seen in his work enabled him to hold up a mirror to his times, and the current of self hatred that ran so close to the surface also matched an important part of his readers’ feelings. Politicians were blamed for not bringing peace, prosperity, and happiness, even though they probably had at this time less power – because of the weakness of the British economy and the relative decline in Britain’s international position – to bring peace and prosperity than they had had earlier in the century; blaming them for this did no good, and made people happier only in the shortest of short runs.

‘A civil was in Nigeria illustrated a good many features of British life, including a hostility to the British Empire which might have made sense while the struggle for colonial freedom was going on but, after decolonization had taken place so quickly and so amicably, felt rather as though people needed something to hate.’ (pp. 420-1).

The Conservative academic historian, Jeremy Black, laments that the positive aspects of British imperialism has been lost in his book The British Empire: A History and a Debate (Farnham: Ashgate 2015):

‘Thus, the multi-faceted nature of the British imperial past and its impact has been largely lost. This was a multi-faceted nature that contributed to the pluralistic character of the empire. Instead, a politics of rejection ensures that the imperial past serves for themes and images as part of an empowerment through real, remembered, or, sometimes, constructed grievance. This approach provides not only the recovery of terrible episodes, but also ready reflexes of anger and newsworthy copy, as with the harsh treatment of rebels, rebel sympathisers , and innocent bystanders in the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya, an issue that took on new energy as demands for compensation were fuelled by revelations of harsh British policy from 2011’. (p. 235).

He also states that there’s a feeling in Britain that the empire, and now the Commonwealth, are largely irrelevant:

‘Similarly, there has been a significant change in tone and content in the discussion of the imperial past in Britain. A sense of irrelevance was captured in the Al Stewart song ‘On the Border’ (1976).

‘On my wall the colours of the map are running

From Africa the winds they talk of changes of coming

In the islands where I grew up

Noting seems the same

It’s just the patterns that remain

An empty shell.’

For most of the public, the Commonwealth has followed the empire into irrelevance. the patriotic glow that accompanied and followed the Falklands War in 1982, a war fought to regain a part of the empire inhabited by settlers of British descent, was essentially nationalistic, not imperial. This glow was not matched for the most recent, and very different, conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. These have led to a marked disinclination for further expeditionary warfare’. (pp. 421-2).

In fact the whole of the last chapter of Black’s book is about changing attitudes to the empire and the imperial past, which Black feels has been distorted. The British empire is seen through the lens of atrocities, although its rule was less harsh than the Germans or Italians. In India the view is coloured by the Amritsar massacre and ignores the long periods of peace imposed by British rule in India. He also notes that the cultural and international dominance of America has also affected British ideas of exceptionalism, distinctiveness and pride, and that interest in America has superseded interest in the other countries of the former empire.

Attitudes to the empire have also changed as Britain has become more multicultural., and states that ‘increasingly multicultural Britain sees myriad tensions and alliance in which place, ethnicity, religion, class and other factors both class and coexist. This is not an easy background for a positive depiction of the imperial past’ (p. 239). He also mentions the Parekh Report of the Commission on the Future Multi-Ethnic Britain, which ‘pressed for a sense of heritage adapted to the views of recent immigrants. This aspect of the report’ he writes, ‘very much attracted comment. At times, the consequences were somewhat fanciful and there was disproportionate emphasis both on a multi-ethnic legacy and on a positive account of it’. (p. 239). Hence the concern to rename monuments and streets connected with the imperial past, as well as making museums and other parts of the heritage sector more accessible to Black and Asians visitors and representative of their experience.

I wonder how far this lack of interest in the Commonwealth goes, at least in the immediate present following the Commonwealth games. There’s talk on the Beeb and elsewhere that it has inspired a new interest and optimism about it. And my guess is that much of popular hostility to the empire probably comes from the sympathy from parts of the British public for the various independence movements and horror at the brutality with which the government attempted to suppress some of them,, like the Mau Mau in Kenya. But it also seems to me that a powerful influence has also been the psychological link between its dissolution and general British decline, and its replacement in British popular consciousness by America. And Black and Asian immigration has also played a role. I’ve a very strong impression that some anti-imperial sentiment comes from the battles against real racism in the 1970s and 1980s. One of the Fascist organisations that founded the National Front in the 1960s was the League of Empire Loyalists.

This popular critique on British imperialism was a part of the ‘Nemesis the Warlock’ strip in 2000AD. This was about a future in which Earth had become the centre of a brutally racist, genocidal galactic empire ruled by a quasi-religious order, the Terminators. They, and their leader, Torquemada, were based on the writer’s own experience as a pupil of an abusive teacher at a Roman Catholic school. The Terminators wore armour, and the title of their leader, grand master, recalls the crusading orders like the Knights Templars in the Middle Ages. One of the stories mentions a book, published by the Terminators to justify their cleansing of the galaxy’s aliens, Our Empire Story. Which is the title of a real book that glamorised the British empire. Elsewhere the strip described Torquemada as ‘the supreme Fascist’ and there were explicit comparisons and links between him, Hitler, extreme right-wing Tory politicos like Enoch Powell, and US generals responsible for the atrocities against the Amerindians. It’s a good question whether strips like ‘Nemesis’ shape public opinion or simply follow it. I think they may well do a bit of both.

But it seems to me that, rather than being a recent phenomenon, a popular hostility to the British empire has been around since the 1970s and that recent, radical attacks on imperial history and its legacy are in many cases simply an extension of this, rather than anything completely new.

James Lindsay on the Queer Marxist Ideology Behind Drag Queen Story Hour

July 12, 2022

This month, I understand, is the British Pride Month, and either this weekend or last there were a number of Pride marches and events all across the country. Bristol had one in which the local constituency Labour parties marched to show their support, followed by a music festival in the evening. The weather back then was very nice and sunny, rather than today in Bristol, where it’s still hot but overcast. I hope everything went well and that everybody who went had a great time.

Increasing Opposition to Pride and Drag Events

There’s been increasing opposition in America to Pride marches, largely because of concerns over kink and nudity. These events have been promoted as child friendly, but some of the highly sexual displays during these marches really aren’t suitable for children. A number of gays are also put off by them, both in Britain and America. They feel that the concern for promoting trans rights has taken over from the marches’ original focus and purpose of promoting tolerance and acceptance for gays. And the trans focus has also caused concerns about children’s safety. At one of the American marches, the organisers were giving out binders, or stated they were prepared to give out binders, to girls as young as twelve. Binders are extremely tight bands placed around girls’ chests to prevent the breasts developing as part of the attempt to halt puberty in trans identified girls. Apart from the question of whether a pre-adolescent child has the wisdom and maturity to know if they genuinely are trans or not, when they can’t legally buy alcohol or tobacco, there are the health issues of the binders themselves. They’re so tight that they can cause a range of physiological damage, including to the spine and ribs.

There have also been attacks on drag events being promoted to children. This includes drag queen story hour, in which drag performers come into libraries to read or tell stories to young children. This has been explained as an initiative to combat homophobia and instil proper acceptance of gays to children. The right, on the other hand, suspect that it is really a form of grooming. Some of this criticism is is correct, and the performer has put on a display that it very definitely and obviously not suitable for children. Like the drag artiste hired by Reading Library a few months ago, who turned up with a d**do hanging from its crotch and a bare behind, dressed as a monkey. More recently, in the past few weeks there has been outcries as parents have taken children to gay and drag clubs to watch drag queens and trans strippers perform highly sexualised routines, some even stuffing money into their g strings or whatever. These displays have also upset individual members of the gay and drag communities. One drag queen, whose video was widely reposted on conservative YouTube channels, stated that drag shows were not suitable for children because of their highly sexual content. The artiste stated that children shouldn’t be taken to them. If children were going to turn out gay, then they could learn about their sexuality the way the drag queen and other gays had always done, back in their own rooms at home.

British Prime Time Drag Shows of the 70s and the British Music Hall

Now I have to say that I find drag queen story hour a little odd. I think it started in California, in either Los Angeles or San Francisco, cities which have very strong gay communities. I understand the purpose behind them of teaching children to accept gays naturally, as well as encouraging them to read. With the latter, I would have thought it more appropriate to have drag queens as one of a number of different, colourful performers appealing to children, such as clowns that aren’t scary, if there are such things, stage conjurers or puppeteers and so on. And I don’t think there’d be such questions about it if the drag queens were more like the drag acts on TV when I was a child. I was a junior kid in the 1970s, and I remember that Danny La Rue was one of the major hits of week day evening television. La Rue’s act was basically a continuation of the old music hall tradition, complete with songs. La Rue died a few years ago, and there has been nothing scandalous about him that has been published as some kind of revelation of his secret private life. I think it came out that he was gay, which I don’t think surprised or shocked anyone. As for his act, the worst I’ve heard about it is the joke that he wasn’t born, but found ‘on mother Kelly’s doorstep’, referring to one of the Music Hall songs he used to sing. Other drag acts of the ’70s included Hinge and Bracket, two musical ladies of a certain age who mixed songs at the piano with witty repartee. They’re long gone, but their programmes were repeated a few years ago on BBC Radio 4 Extra. As far as I know, no-one objected to their act all. More recently, back in the 90s there was Lily Savage, who was far less genteel than the previous two performers, but nevertheless a comedy favourite on British TV.

Postmodernist Marxism and Drag Queen Story Hour as a Tool of Indoctrination

But there does seem to be a sinister ideological component to drag queen story hour. James Lindsay in one of his videos on his New Discourses YouTube channel read out and critiqued an academic paper written by a drag queen, Lil Miss Hot Mess, and a transwoman called Harper Keenan,” Drag pedagogy: The playful practice of queer imagination in early childhood”. Hot Mess is the author of a children’s book, The Drag Performer’s Hips Go Swish-Swish-Swish. The article was published in an education periodical, and takes a postmodernist Marxist view of drag queen story hour. This goes far beyond using such performers as a way getting children used to gay people so as not to regard them as strange or an automatic threat. Rather, as Lindsay shows, the authors of this paper view it as a means of destroying the constraints on children’s minds and identities imposed by conventional society. Lindsay states that it follows the Marxist strategy, now a century old, of sexualising children in order to alienate them from their parents and the more conservative morals in wider society. The goal isn’t to produce psychologically stable and well-adjusted gay young people, who are accepted into society. Rather its goal is to produce unstable personalities so that the indoctrinated children ‘live queerly’ and reject conventional society and its institutions, including the family. This is attacked as a repressive institution, through which children are socialised into being conventional members of society who grow up, settle down and have families of their own, reproducing oppressive capitalist society while doing so. Instead the authority of their parents is to be underlined with the glitter drag queens spread, so that they grow up gay and connect instead with an alternative, real family in the drag culture.

Lindsay is an academic and a very powerful critic of the recent rise of radical postmodern ideologies such as Critical Race Theory, Queer Theory and Post-Colonial Theory, which appear to have ostensibly liberal goals, such as combating racism, homophobia and allowing the historical experience of persecuted ethnic minorities and colonised peoples to be heard. In fact these ideologies have a far more radical agenda of promoting Marxism and creating an intersectional radical milieu ready to rise up against normal, capitalist society. Lindsay compares this with the educational programme pushed through by Mao in Communist China. His video on drag queen story hour is one of a number of videos on ‘groomer schools’, in which he discusses the way some schools, including elite private schools, have adopted these ideologies in order to indoctrinate their students.

This is contentious, provocative stuff, which is why I’ve delayed blogging about it. I really didn’t want to post it on British Pride weekend because it would be too much like a gratuitous insult to ordinary gay people and their friends and supporters. Especially as Lindsay makes it very clear what he thinks about the pair of authors and their ideological Marxist fellows. He calls them groomers and states very clearly several times that they ought to be banged up in jail. And if they are using drag queen story hour to push an extremist political ideology through creating a queer revolutionary consciousness, which Queer Theorists differentiate from ‘gay’, then such people definitely shouldn’t be in schools. This is extremist politics, not a case of promoting gay or trans acceptance or encouraging kids to enjoy reading.

Queer Theory Attitude close to Parodies of Conspiracy Theories and Homophobia

But it’s also highly bizarre. So bizarre, in fact, that it seems like a caricature of some of the bonkers rubbish rags like The Scum were pushing in the early eighties. You know the rubbish – all that stuff about kids in Brent being told to sing ‘Ba Ba Green Sheep’ by anti-racist activists in schools, ’cause Bernie Grant or somebody thought the original lyrics were racist. It sounds like something just one step less ridiculous than the plot of Carry On Spying, in which the Carry On team were pitched against a Bond-type supervillain/villainess. This person was a hermaphrodite, both male and female, and was plotting to turn the world’s population into similar beings like him/herself. It’s also too close to a skit on Alas Smith and Jones, where the pair lampooned such prejudice in a spoof gameshow about finding ‘Bigot of the Year’. One of the rounds was entitled ‘Just A Bigot’, and asked the howlingly bigoted contestants the question ‘They’re evil, sick and shouldn’t be allowed. Who are they?’ The answers barked back included ‘bisexual social workers indoctrinating kids’. The question master then responds with ‘No, they’re all excellent demonstrations of bigotry, but the real answer is ‘Everyone except from me’. If this story was carried by the Heil, Depress, Scum or the Star, I’d honestly think their journalist had finally gone totally bonkers. You could imagine one of their hacks having strange, paranoid suspicions about Danny La Rue or RuPaul being some kind of Marxist criminal masterminds instead of performers. Pretty much like MI 5 when they investigated ‘Bill and Ben the Flower Pot Men’ because somebody thought the nonsense language these beloved children’s characters spoke may have been coded Communist messages.

Drag Queens Can’t All be Revolutionary Marxists

But from the evidence of this paper, and Lindsay adds that there are many others, including one that tells readers how to organise a story hour in schools, there really is an extremist ideological programme behind them. This does raise questions about their suitability for young children in schools. But there are also other reasonable questions that can be asked about the supposed ideological dimension to drag queen story hours. First off, we don’t know how widespread this attitude to drag queen story hour is. Most of the people staging them, I should hazard a guess, probably aren’t ideologically committed Marxists or Marxians. They’re probably just ‘woke’ peeps who genuinely believe that they’re helping gay and trans people gain acceptance, rather than have any ulterior motive of creating the queer intersectional revolutionary class called for by Queer Theorists. I also don’t know how many drag performers actually share this ideology. The majority are probably just performers like the old style drag acts, who want to put on a show rather than push any kind of radical political agenda. Some do, like the group who sent their drag monkey to Reading Library, but not all. I did hear that there was a radical section of the gay community who didn’t want gay people to marry, because this was the gay community taking on the family values and morals of bourgeois society. But the number of gay men and women who are tying the knot suggests that this radical part of the gay community were probably no more than an unrepresentative fringe. My guess is that many of the drag queens going into schools to read probably see it as another job or performance without necessarily there being a further dimension beyond it.

And I note the article doesn’t say anything about the motives of the drag queens who first started the story hour across the Pond. We’re not told if they intended it to be part of some covert programme of Marxist indoctrination. The article declares that it is, simply because of what drag performers do during the story hour as part of their performance, answering questions from pupils about sexuality and gender and so on. But that simply could be a case of how they wish to see the drag performances in story hours, rather than what they are or were intended to be.

Criticism of Marxist Attacks on the Marriage and the Family

As for Marxist opposition to the family, this goes all the way back to the Communist Manifesto of 1848. Marx and Engels objected to marriage on feminist grounds, believing that it enslaved women and reduced them to the level of prostitutes. This was at a time when, under German and English law, a woman’s property automatically became that of her husband and women were very definitely social inferiors under the control of their husbands and fathers. I think as late as the ’60s and ’70s married women weren’t able to open bank accounts on their own without their husband’s consent. Lindsay has argued in other videos and podcasts that the radical opposition to the family and reorientation to include the gay community came from Herbert Marcuse, who founded intersectional Marxism in the 1960s. It was also part of a general radical movement for sexual liberation celebrating free love as well as different sexual orientations. But French postmodernist Marxists like Althusser also condemned the family as part of the institutions which supported first feudalism and then capitalism.

Society and the institution of marriage has changed in the past half century. Marriage has become far more egalitarian, and the Marxist historical critique of the development of marriage from the earliest beginnings of human society has been discredited. Engels, in his book, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, followed the anthropological ideas of the German author Backhofen in the latter’s book, Das Mutterrecht. Mutterrecht in German means ‘mother right’, and seems to have been the term Backhofen used for matriarchy. He believed that humanity had passed through a period of three stages in the development of the family. One was a period of general promiscuity, followed by a stage of matriarchal, female rule, which was finally superseded by contemporary patriarchy. This has been overturned by contemporary archaeological and palaeoarchaeological research. The pair also believed that marriage was withering away amongst the working class in their time. But this came from a very selective study of a local section of the working class in one of the British cities. In fact, marriage in general remained strong amongst the working class as it did in other ranks of society. And from what I’ve heard and read, the working class Communists in France and England were conventionally married men, who had no time for free love. Well, as the Joan Sim character says in Carry On – Don’t Lose Your Head, ‘I don’t mind the fraternity and equality, but I’m not having any of the liberties!’ The concern with sexual liberation is very much a development of 60s radicalism, though with roots in the calls for gay tolerance by earlier writers like the Edwardian sexologist Havelock Ellis in Britain and Richard Krafft-Ebbing, the author of Psychopathia Sexualis of 1886 in Germany.

Conclusion: Question the Ideology, But Don’t Attack Gay People

I think Lindsay’s right, and this paper should raise important questions regarding the suitability of drag queen story hour, but I believe it should be kept in proportion and should not become part of an all-out attack on the LGBTQ+ community in general. I am particularly aware that there is the danger of trans people being subject to abuse and attack, as described by some of the great commenters on this blog. I am also aware that conservatives like Matt Walsh are using the concerns about Pride and the trans ideology as a stick with which to beat the left. Over here, I found a video by Laurence Fox, the head honcho of Reclaim on how ‘woke’ schools are grooming children. At the end, Fox presents his programme for ending it. I intend to go through it very carefully and critique it at a later date.

In short, I believe Lindsay is right in that very serious questions have to made about the ideology, content and suitability of drag queen story hour. But this may mean no more than reforming it to prevent it being used as a guise for political activists to sneak their message into schools.

And reasonable concerns about the suitability of drag queen story hour shouldn’t be used to demonise gays or trans people.

I’m not posting the video as it’s long at about 2hrs 32 minutes, and I also didn’t want to upset people on here with the strength of Lindsay’s condemnations. If you want to watch it for yourself, it’s at Lindsay’s New Discourses YouTube channel, and is entitled Groomer Schools & Drag Queen Story Hour. The number for it is https://youtube.com/watch?v=aBv19E-fF7w&t=371s.

Norman Tebbit Claims Air Pollution Making People Transgender

October 29, 2017

Mike’s put up a lot of material on his blog, which deserves to be read and commented on. But I really couldn’t let this one pass.

Norman Tebbit, the noted opponent of LGBTQ rights, has risen once again to show his ignorance and bigotry.

Pink News reported that the elderly Thatcherite appeared in the pages of the Torygraph to claim that transgenderism is a new phenomenon. He said he couldn’t remember there being any other children, who were unhappy with their sex at his school, or amongst his intake for National Service or in his children’s school. He wants research conducted into it to examine its extent in time and geographical space. He also states that it’s unknown whether ours or other species are affected, and stated that some scientists believe it could be caused by air pollution. Pink News concluded that it was unclear what scientists he was referring to.

Mike makes the point that there have always been people unhappy with their gender, and that he wouldn’t be surprised if there were people at his school or amongst his cohort for National Service, who weren’t happy with the sex into which they were born. They kept silent, and hid it, because of the very strong hostility towards it. Those were more primitive times, and what has changed is that society has become more tolerant.

He concludes

The current situation is far from enlightened, but progress has been made – as a result of decades of campaigning against oppressive prejudice such as that displayed by Lord Tebbit.

And it is oppressive. It is an attempt to tell other people how to live. How would you like it?

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/10/28/lord-tebbit-thinks-air-pollution-is-making-people-transgender-is-that-as-opposed-to-narrow-minded/

There are a number of aspects to this, which do need to be carefully dissected and commented on.

First of all, I think somewhere along the line Tebbit has come across some entirely respectable research into the growth of reproductive abnormalities and intersex conditions in male animals, and then got it somehow twisted in his weird, bigoted little mind. Scientists have become worried about the increase in malformed sexual organs and female characteristics amongst some animals, such as frogs. I can remember reading an article in New Scientist back in the 1990s that reported that scientists had found an increase in these, as well as other birth defects, in areas in Canada and America that were particularly heavily polluted. I don’t think this was air pollution. It was chemical pollution from factories entering the water table. Amongst the human population, there was a growing gender imbalance with an abnormally low incidence of male births.

In short, there is plenty of evidence which shows that industrial pollution is feminizing animal populations, including humans. And I think it is reasonable to conclude that this process is connected with the fall in sperm vitality in developed, industrial countries, that will leave half of all men classified as clinically infertile by the middle of this century.

But this is not the same as transvestism or transgenderism. This has always been present in human societies. It’s condemned, along with homosexuality, in Leviticus in the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible. Other cultures have been more accepting. For example, in Polynesian culture there were homosexuals, who dressed as women and did female tasks, and were accepted. Herodotus, the Father of History, states that the upper class of the Scythians were not only impotent, but they also dressed as women and did women’s work. The Scythians were a nomadic people on the steppes of central Asia and Siberia. And many of the shamans in Siberian spirituality were transvestites.

In the west, transvestism and transgenderism remained very illegal until very recently. Not only was it frowned upon, but it could also get the transvestite thrown in jail. There was a notorious case in the 19th century of two men, who dressed in drag as part of their music hall act, who were prosecuted because they went out in public wearing their female togs ‘for immoral purposes’, according to the prosecution. Transvestism has also been called Eonism, after the Chevalier d’Eon, a French nobleman and spy, who was also a transvestite. He was also very good at it. He lived as a woman for 20 years, and the woman, who shared his accommodation with him said that in all that time she didn’t know he was a man. One of the small press magazines that emerged in the great flourishing of independent zines in the 1990s was entitled Eon: The Magazine of Transkind, which was dedicated to defending transvestite/ transgender people and their rights.

Western society has become more tolerant towards the transgendered as part of the gay rights campaign that began in the 1950s and ’60s. And at the popular level a strong influence was David Bowie and Glam Rock. Bowie in the ’60s and ’70s adopted a very strongly sexually ambiguous persona. There are photos on the web of him with long hair wearing a man dress. Bowie inspired parts of the pop and rock scene to adopt a similarly androgynous image. Thus the number of Rock and Heavy Metal bands, who also sported long hair and the spandex clothes they’d bought from Chelsea Girl with their sisters. This whole attitude could be summed up in Twisted Sister’s old maxim, ‘Dress like women, sing like men, play like Motherf***ers’. These ’80s monsters of metal arguably achieved their ambition when, in 1987, they were voted America’s ‘worst dressed women’.

It wasn’t just down to Bowie, of course. And despite the massive hair, make-up and spandex, Rock and Heavy Metal are very aggressively masculine musical genres, although certainly not without their female fans and stars. The Goth subculture, or parts of it, also took up the androgynous look as well as a certain tolerance towards bisexuality, which was also becoming increasingly common across popular music generally as part of the changes in sexual attitudes amongst young people.

As for the prevalence of transvestism and transsexuality across different cultures through time, there have been a number of histories of sex written by serious anthropologists, archaeologists and historians, one of whom was also interviewed about his work and book by New Scientist. These issues have also been explored by some of the gay historians. A friend of mine used to have one lying around, which did cover homosexuality and related queer issues as a global phenomenon, from Asia and Europe to Africa and elsewhere.

If Tebbit wants to know more about the Scythians and their sexual habits, he can read Herodotus: The Histories, and the collection of ancient Greek medical writings ascribed to Hippocrates, The Hippocratic Writings. Both are, or were, in Penguin Classics. I’m afraid I can’t remember the titles and authors of the books on the history of sex, although one of them I think was simply titled, The History of Sex, and published by a mainstream publisher. The gay history book was, I think, published by one of the gay publishers.

The Oxbow Book Catalogue for autumn 2017 also contains a recent book, Exploring Sex and Gender in Bioarchaeology, ed. by Sabrina C. Agarwal and Julie K. Wesp (University of New Mexico Press 2017).

The blurb for this runs

Archaeologists have long used skeletal remains to identify gender. Contemporary bioarchaeologists, however, have begun to challenge the theoretical and methodological basis for sex assignment from the skeletons. Simultaneously, they have started to consider the cultural construction of gender roles, recognising the body as uniquely fashioned from the interaction of biological, social, and environmental factors. As the contributors to this volume reveal, combining skeletal data with contextual information can provide a richer understanding of life in the past.

(Page 6 of the catalogue).

This book ain’t cheap, however. The hardback edition is £88.95. But as Tebbit was a Tory cabinet minister, he can probably afford it. As for the other books, he could simply go on Amazon to find them, or simply look round his local branch of Waterstones.

As it is, it looks as if Tebbit has simply been watching too much Alex Jones, the bonkers American conspiracy theorist, and his foam-flecked rant about ‘the globalists’ putting chemicals in the water ‘to turn the frickin’ frogs gay!’

And here’s some light relief at the great conspiracy theorist’s expense:

Hope Not Hate: Nazis Hold Rally in Blackpool, People Ignore Them

March 13, 2016

There’s an interesting piece in the Insider’s Blog today on the anti-fascist, anti-religious extremism site, Hope Not Hate. This reports that yesterday the North West Infidels and National Action held a demonstration in Blackpool. There they ranted about the Jews and immigration. The holidaymakers and good burghers of Blackpool responded with an overwhelming display of complete apathy.

This is interesting for a couple of reasons. The anti-Fascists of Hope Not Hate take the lack of interest in the Nazis’ antics as a good thing. They’ve been showing for some time that the actual membership of these Fascist organisations is dwindling rapidly, and the organisations themselves are splintering into an ever increasing number of feuding sects. Put simply, the good people of Blackpool are able to ignore them, because they don’t pose much of a threat. Or at least, not there. Everybody was used to what they were saying, and no-one from outside these organisations were likely to be won over. so instead of starting a fight or a riot, it was just as well to ignore them and enjoy the early spring day. After all, in a competition between the Golden Mile, the Blackpool Tower and even, tucked away in the backstreets, a museum to Music Hall and Variety stars and acts, and a bunch of goose-steppers, most people would choose the former. I’d far rather imbibe the atmosphere of the spiritual home of such great funny men and women as Les Dawson and Wilson, Keppel and Betty and the Sand Dance than listen to more Nazi raving.

It also shows how far the Far Right has also cast off its attempts to play down its Nazi past. In the case of the anti-Islam organisation, the EDL, it consciously tried to present itself as non- or anti-racist, despite the fact that its grassroots seemed to be the bog standard Fascists in all the other far Right organisations. The North West Infidels similarly claimed to be concerned with combating Islamicisation. Now it seems they’ve dropped this façade, and gone back to simple Nazism and hating the Jews.

For more information, see the article at: http://www.hopenothate.org.uk/blog/insider/blackpool-ignores-jew-hating-rally-4802

And just to cheer you up after mentioning these sordid shenanigans, here’s some footage from 1933 of Wilson, Keppel and Betty in action.

1914 and the Lack of Popular Enthusiasm for the War

November 1, 2014

The documentaries and commemorative articles screened and published this year about the outbreak of the First World War have repeated the claim that it was greeted with enthusiasm by the mass of the British public. I was sent this paper by Nick Jones a few months ago, and unfortunately have only just now got round to publishing it. It’s an important, eye-opening piece, as Nick argues that the general, jingoistic patriotism claimed by many historians did not actually exist, though there were local patches of support for the War. Reaction to the War seems to have been mixed at many levels of society. The Royal Family weren’t keen on waging war on the Kaiser, who was, after all, the king’s cousin. The ‘little bounder’ Lloyd George, as Nick shows, was ambivalent about the War. The Labour Party was split on the issue, between those who believed support for the War would make the party more electorally respectable, and those, like Keir Hardie, who continued their principle opposition.

Nick’s article shows that some of the support for the War came from the gentry, and from particular commercial or bureaucratic groups, which saw a material advantage in the crisis. These included cinema chains, who used it as an excuse to open on Sundays under the pretext that they were supporting the war effort. Other organisations were equally cynical, but much more malign in their attitudes to the working class. These were the guardians of the workhouses, mental hospitals, borstals and labour colonies, who took the opportunity to reduce their inmates rations on the grounds that cuts needed to be made in anticipation of food shortages caused by the War. Some went even further, and forced their inmates to leave to join the army, thus reducing the economic burden of welfare expenditure for their ratepayers. Nick shows that some employers also used the same tactic to lay off staff by encouraging them to join the armed forces instead.

So, little popular enthusiasm for the War. But it did provide an opportunity for more cynical exploitation of the poor, the ill, the unemployed and the desperate. All in the name of patriotism and serving one’s country. Here’s Nick’s article:

Little Support for the War

There has, until very recently, been a general consensus amongst historians that the nation marched happily to war in 1914. A moment’s reflection might question this.

The classic account is that of Arthur Marwick;
“As the time limit [for the ultimatum] approached a great concourse of people gathered in Trafalgar Square and Whitehall…when the British declaration of war upon Germany was issued at the Foreign Office it was greeted with ’round after round of cheers'(1)

Yet an eye-witness later recalled; “We listened in silence. There was no public proclamation that we were at war. The great crowd rapidly dispersed”(2)

Outside London things were also done quietly;
“The little country town was full of anxious people. on the Tuesday night that war was to be declared, waiting in the half-lighted streets for the news that…never came until the morning…at 8 o’clock, when the post office opened .. or postmaster read to us a telegram, ‘War is declared..’ It seemed quite unreal to us, and after a few moments of talk we settled down to our ordinary lives..” (3)

Subsequent historians have repeated Marwick’s suggestion of general optimism. John Turner remarks “The Liberal government …and the British public, entered the conflict in 1914 expecting a short struggle, brought to an end by the success of British sea-power and the armies of the Entente” and in a recent study David Silbey suggests that “By the time Britain declared war, most of the population had converted to a pro-war position (4)

But Marwick had offered a note of caution ; “The patriots did not have things their own way” (5) In York; “When war was declared [the town] went into a turmoil and nothing caused greater annoyance and upset than the commandeering of horses for the army (6)

Another writer points out a few flaws in the accepted versions. He notes a lack of enthusiasm for war in Wales and that such crowds as there were in London, consisted of “a normal August Bank Holiday crowd” . He was unable to locate any precise numbers.(7)
[Further scholarly research] has suggested the indifference displayed by the population at large, to the ‘gentry’s’ enthusiasm for the war. Bonnie White’s [assessment] of recruiting in Devon suggests that, despite the efforts of the local grandees, appeals to ‘patriotism’ were not reciprocated with ‘local ardour’. Noting that; “As elsewhere in the country, Devonians were apprehensive about leaving their communities for military service”. (8)

The Royal Family, Liberals and the Labour Party

The Royal Family may not have been too keen to enter a conflict against a state headed by one of their closest relatives. Kaiser William had also been a member of their Life Guards. It is not recorded whether he was issued with mobilisation papers after the declaration of hostilities.

In political circles, opinion was divided The ruling Liberal Party was deeply split over the war.

The Cabinet itself was divided almost equally. The day before war was declared four of its members resigned over the issue. Lloyd George was later reported to have believed ‘There appears to be nothing for a Liberal to do but to look on while the hurricane rages”. He did promise not to campaign against the War as he had done against the Boer War (9.)

There was a near fatal split between the Parliamentary Labour Party and the ILP.

Henderson, leader of the former, opted for participation in the war effort on pragmatic grounds, He thought that ‘Labour’ could show its fitness for government by collaboration with the ‘war party’. Ramsay MacDonald resigned the chairmanship of the Party when the Parliamentary section voted for ‘supplies’. Kier Hardie after voicing his dissent, retired to his Merthyr constituency and attempted to build opposition to the war from there.

War Fever in the Gentry and Contractors for the London Mental Asylums

It is true that there was an outburst of ‘popular’ enthusiasm for the conflict in some quarters.

“Next morning…there was much buying up of stores in the town by the gentry.. Prices were going up in the town; sugar had doubled, bread was a half-penny dearer” The London County Council “Asylums and Mental Deficiency Committee faced a spate of letters from “contractors [who] sent in claims for extra payment for goods which have been supplied since war was declared” (10)

The inmates of such institutions were less fortunate. In Bermondsey, by London Docks where it might be expected ‘business’ might be brisk, the Board of Guardians decreed that;

“If the Rations of the Staff or the Dietary of the Inmates can be curtailed in any way without inflicting any hardships … no hesitation whatever should occur in carrying the same into effect”.

These generous souls offered a list of suggestions how economies might be effected; “Preserved Meat, Fish or Beef Extract” could replace “Meat”. Biscuits should be offered instead of the lashings of ‘Bread and Cake’ inmates consumed. “Egg Powder” must replace “Eggs”. Superintendents ought to “Omit altogether Eggs (and) Poultry” except for the Sick, as shortages were anticipated. (11)

Hollesley Bay Labour Colony

The supervisor of the Hollesley Bay Labour Colony, no doubt keen to minimise rate-payers ‘burdens’, reduced the food ration there at the earliest opportunity. ‘owing to the military preparations in East Anglia” As a result the men protested’ and asked for an assurance that no further curtailment would take place. As the superintendant could [or would] not give this undertaking 101 men had left the Colony”

It is not recorded where they went to. A Deputation from the remaining inmates went to” the Central Office where they were interviewed by the vice-chairman of the committee who informed them…no further assistance [would] be given..to any of the men who had left the Colony”(12)

Employers and Redundancy

Employers saw it as a golden opportunity to shed ‘surplus’ (or recalcitrant) parts of their workforce. Balfour, a leading figure in the Conservative party thought it wrong that “employers [were] offering their employees the choice of getting the sack or joining Kitchener’s New Army” (13)

All Local Authorities acknowledged that there would be problems of ‘distress’ due to the war [and prepared measures to deal with mass unemployment.


Jingoism and the Cinemas

Not everyone greeted the outbreak of hostilities with long faces though.

LJ Collins has noted that ‘the theatre was employed as a recruiting and propaganda agent, and raiser of funds for war’ filling places in the auditorium. Although they were closed when war was declared, they still had to pay the bills and fill seats. There was a tradition of jingoism in popular entertainment, theatrical managements had used it to curry respectability with licensing authorities. Charity fundraising galas proved a godsend in filling empty spaces. (14)

One group of entrepreneurs welcomed the outbreak of war with open arms. The bioscopes, or Cinematographs were a relatively new form of entertainment. Like Music Halls, they were licensed by Local Authorities and had to observe strictly regulated opening hours. These prevented them from admitting patrons on a Sunday. One way in which they circumvented such restrictions was to offer ‘benefit performances’ for charities.

On August 18th WF Pettie, proprietor of the Crofton Park Picture Theatre applied to the LCC’s Theatres and Music Halls Committee for permission to open on Sundays in contravention of a previous undertaking not to do so. he offered ‘that the proceeds…be applied wholly or in part to the Prince of Wales’s National Relief Fund.” Permission was refused. (15)

The LCC’s Committee felt obliged to assess the effect of the war on attendances at cinemas. This was deputed to the London Fire Brigade. For the most part, audiences were down. In the East End, whilst a few managers thought sanguinely of affairs. they attributed any loss of business to the warm weather.

The managers of The Britannia, Hoxton ‘stated’ that their ‘house [was] doing better than ever, packed; war not affecting them at all”. Also in Hoxton, the manager of the premises at 55 Pitfield Street stated that his “house [was] doing rather well.”

Yet the majority bemoaned a loss of business. At the Variety Theatre Hoxton ‘Managers stated [that they were] doing fairly well, but [were] affected by large numbers of territorials called up.

At the Adelphi Chapel, Hackney Road the manager thought his
‘Bad business [could be] attributed to [the] number of territorials and reservists called up, who with their women folk were regular patrons”. (16)

Audience figures for individual cinemas are hard to come by. Even when they are, a number of variables need to be taken into consideration. Above all the popularity of the programme offered, the entrance price and competition from other entertainments

The manager of the Essex Road and Packington Street Cinema offered a more informed opinion, He believed;

“The cinematograph business might…suffer somewhat owing to the renters insisting on cash for films instead of allowing a two weeks credit, as formerly (17)

Managers who had regularly opened for business on Sundays before the War, quickly found a new excuse for doing so.

At The Princess Row, Kew cinema the manager Harry Gray claimed on the 30th “I am open by direction of my employers in aid of the Middlesex War Relief Fund..” by the 13th the reply had been modified to “I am open by direction of the owners and on the advice of Counsel. The proceeds are diverted to Charity, the Middlesex War Relief Fund”. (18)

At the Electric Palace, Cricklewood, the police had reported on the 7th June 1914 “The Managers informed me that the proceeds after deducting expenses would be given to London Medical Charities” On 16th August they were; “informed by the manager Mr Hallam that the proceeds after deducting expenses would be given to the War Fund. (19)

Borstal Boys Recruited into Army

On a more mundane level, it is remarkable how many young offenders were pardoned by Home Office Warrants during the latter part of 1914. Richard Van Emden has noted that approximately 150 ‘former borstal boys were known to be serving’ at the end of 1914.

Accurate figures are not easy to gauge. The figure of 150 is given by the Association’s annual Report. In the a minute of March 1915 it was noted that “320 Borstal Boys have been discharged direct into the Army and many others have enlisted on discharge or within a few weeks”

They had an inducement to do so as “The Association was asked by the [Prison] Commissioners to provide a suitable outfit for boys enlisting in the Army from the Institutions… a piece of soap, a towel and a leather belt have been added to the outfit provided” The generous souls overseeing the borstals felt able to be this magnanimous since they no longer had to ‘make any payments on account of fares, board & lodging or extra clothing in these cases’ thus saving over £300. As the war dragged on the Army was the destination for nearly all boys who left the ‘Institution’. By September 1916 it was estimated that “Nearly 50% of the boys who have enlisted are already in action abroad”. (20)

Recruitment and the Workhouses

Poor Law Guardians and Workhouse masters took the opportunity to remove some of their ‘clients’ to the care of recruiting sergeants.

The Clerk to the Sedgefield, Durham, Union, a JW Lodge, circulated a motion passed there on 26th August to other Unions;
“in view of the large number of able-bodied vagrants … who appear to be generally living on the community, the attention of the Local Government Board and War Office be drawn to the matter with a request that legislation be passed for the purpose of utilising.. the services of these able-bodied men for the Country’s good at this time of National stress” (21)

He found some receptive ears.

Cyril Pearce records that ‘Huddersfield’s Poor Law Guardians.. agreed to support a proposal to compel all able-bodied male applicants to enlist. Its supporters claimed that this policy would soon clear out the vagrant wards and ‘be very great relief to the expenses of the country’ (22)

In fact this had been official policy since the declaration of War. A Relief Committee was set up under the chairmanship of Balfour. When the Cabinet had sought a vote for supplies in the House of Commons, it had included measures to alleviate any distress caused by the resultant unemployment. The Local Government Board, under Herbert Samuel, set up a formal Committee for the Prevention and Relief of Distress.

Administered by an Education official Joseph Alfred Pease, it’s aim was to co-ordinate the various methods of Relief, including Charities and Poor Law Boards.

As early as August 7th. recommendations had reached the Charity Organisation Society in London, who passed them on to its members, that “Single able-bodied men and lodging-house cases should be dealt with by the Poor Law”(23) The COS was soon “asked by the Local Government Board Intelligence Department for London..to collect certain information indicating the existence or otherwise of abnormal distress” in the Capital (24)

Within a week of the declaration of war draft guidelines for the dispensation of relief had been distributed by the Local Government Board Committee. These stated; “that men living with their families should have priority over single men, or those living apart….relief should be refused to young single men capable of military service”.(25)

Notes

1. [The Deluge p.31 1967 ed citing Daily News 5 August 1914 Daily Mail ibid] The Guardian pages for the 4th and 5th of August give a far more nuanced impression of the public response and list some of the appeals for peace and/or neutrality
2. [M MacDonagh. London During the Great War, London, 1935. p.10. MacDonagh was the Times correspondent. It is good to know the Mail has maintained its veracity through the years. J.C.C Davidson recalled the occasion differently some years later; “Whitehall was simply packed with a seething mass of people…(after sending the Colonial Office telegrams relaying the declaration of war) “We started back to Downing Street, to find thousands of people milling around shouting and singing and bursting with cheers.. They didn’t know what they were in for, and they had this awful war fever..” quoted in R.R. James; Memoirs of A Conservative, London, 1969 pp.10-11].
3. M. Fordham ‘War and The Village’, The New Statesman, August 15 1914. p.593]

4. J Turner, British Politics and The Great War; Yale 1992. p.4; DJ Silbey The British Working Class and Enthusiasm for War, London 2005, p.20.
5. [Deluge p.30]
6. Peacock, York In The Great War p 294]

7. [A Gregory, British ”War Enthusiasm’ in 1914: a Reassessment’ in G. Braybon (Ed); Evidence History and the Great War, New York & Oxford, 2003 p 71 ]

8. White [citing Cox Be Proud; p.20 Mansfield; in Gliddon, 1988. p18ff]
9. [BL Add Mss. 46386 f.52. ; Cabinet Letter to George V;f,69; Runciman to Spender Nov 4th 1929 f.72. See also Ramsay MacDonald’s memoir; PRO 30/69/1232]
10. [[Fordham op cit p 593] LMA/ LCC Minutes 3 Nov 1914 pp 694-5; Report 27th Oct 1914….See also 13 October 1914, p.537 report of 29th September 1914 Printed Minutes of Proceedings, July-Dec 1914]

11. [LMA BBG 104. Bermondsey Board of Guardians Minutes and Cash Papers; Memorandum B, 8th August 1914.]

12. “[LMA /CUB 71. Minute August 6th f.75. Minute 22nd Sept. f.84.]

13. [Balfour to Lady Wemyss; August 29 1914 cited K Young; Balfour London, 1963. p.350]

14. [ [LJ Collins Theatre At War, Oxford 1998, p.3]. P Summerfield ‘The Effingham Arms and Empire’, in E & S Yeo (Eds) Popular Culture and Class Conflicts, Hassocks, 1981 S Pennybacker; ‘It was not what she said….The London County Council and Music Halls’; in PJ Bailey Music Hall, Milton Keynes, 1986]

15. [Minute 7th October LCC/MIN/ 10,735 Signed Minutes Theatres and Music Halls Sub-Committee Minutes 1914 f.761.]

16. [[LMA ibid 4/458 7th Oct 1914; 10,981 Visit 29th August p.1].
/ LMA ibid 10981 31st August p.3].
17. [LCC; p.2 10, 981 31st August]
18. [MCC/CL/ES/EL/1/16 Middlesex County Council; Engineer and Surveyors Department; Entertainment Licensing; Files concerning prosecutions against licensed premises no folio but dated 21st Sept.]. f.31956]
18. [3 May to 9 August : MCC/CL/ES/EL/1/33; MCC/CL/ES/EL/1/17 Middlesex County Council; Engineer and Surveyors Department; Entertainment Licensing; Files concerning prosecutions against licensed premises]
20. [Emden, Boy Soldiers of The Great War p.127. Emden’s precise quote is ‘Of 336 boys released from borstal institutions in the year ending March 1915 150 were in the forces, while in all some 60 former borstal boys were known to be serving’ quoting , presumably, HO 247/2 Annual Report, p 12. Borstal Association Records. Remarks on Income and Expenditure during the year 1914-1915. p. 2. ibid. Tss Report On Cases. Oct 1916. Some were fortunate enough to be rejected by the Military they appear to have, largely, ‘gone to sea’]
21. [reproduced in LMA/BBG /104. Bermondsey Board of Guardians Reports; Minutes Vol. XXXIV. No.8 p.27 22nd Sept 1914.]
22. [Pearce Comrades In Conscience pp 81-2 citing Huddersfield Daily Examiner 1.9.1914 Worker (Huddersfield) 5.9.1914] .

23.[ Circular No 3 7th August 1914 COS Archive; LMA/A/FWA/C/A3/49/1 between ff. 323-4].

24. [Circular August 14th 1914.ibid.]

25.[COS Minutes Vol 50; LMA/A/FWA/C/A3/50/1 between ff. 3-4 August 20th 1914. “The Local Government Board advised in their circular of August 10th…”]

So the image of cheering crowds, ecstatically greeting the news that war had come, is a myth. The reality was a deep ambivalence about the War amongst nearly all levels of society, and, for many, indifference. It was also cynically used by the nascent cinema to gain greater respectability, while employers, borstals and the managers of the workhouses and labour camps for the unemployed used it as a means to cut down on expenditure, either by reducing rations or encouraging their unwanted staff and inmates to join up.

There are several parallels to the war in Iraq nearly a century later. There was wide opposition to the beginning of the War, with a million people marching against it. The present government has continued its campaign of welfare cuts, including laying off senior military staff, while simultaneously running recruitment campaigns trying to get more people to enlist. And as the Capped Crusader, Michael Moore showed in Fahrenheit 9/11, the burden of the War has fallen on the poor and working class. It is they, who have been targeted by the recruiting sergeants, while the rich and powerful, with the possible exception of the British Royal Family, have been keen to keep their sons and daughters well away from the frontline.

And the mass media, the cinema in the case of the First World War, and the TV news now, have done their best to support and promote the War.

It makes you wonder… After all the rhetoric about the War to End All Wars, what have we learned … what has changed over the past century?

Blackadder, Patriotism and the First World War: Michael Gove Repeats ‘The Old Lie’

January 6, 2014

Anzacs World War1

Anzacs at Passchendaele, 1917, the battle described by A.J.P. Taylor as ‘the blindest slaughter of a blind war’.

I’ve reblogged two of Mike’s articles on Vox Populi on Michael Gove’s latest attack on history and the received view of the First World War. In an interview in the Daily Mail, Gove criticised shows like Blackadder and the film, Oh, What A Lovely War!, for presenting the wrong view of the First World War and denigrating the courage, honour and patriotism of the men who fought there. It is, he said, the fault of left-wing academics, and seems particularly incensed at the cynicism and rejection of patriotism in the above TV series and film.

Now, Gove does have something of a point here. Recent scholarship within the last 30 years has criticised the old view that there was a profound gulf between the officers and the working-class men they led, and pointed out that there was more mutual comradeship, acceptance and respect between the two groups than previously considered. I was also told by a very left-wing friend, who has absolutely no time for the Tory party, that the amount of cynicism and bitterness generated by the War has been overstated. Of the men returning from the War, 1/3 bitterly hated it, 1/3 thought it was a good adventure, and 1/3 had no strong feelings about it one way or the other.

The same friend also told me that on the Western Front, the death rate was actually lower than in contemporary Edwardian factories. His comment on this was simply: ‘It’s sh*t.’ This does not exonerate the mass carnage of the First World War so much as show you how immensely cheaply life was held by the Edwardian factory masters. As for courage, George Orwell freely admitted in one of his essays that this was amply demonstrated by the numbers of the titled aristocracy, including dukes, knights and baronets, whose lives were ended in that savage conflict. He called the militaristic anti-intellectual upper classes ‘blimps’, and had nothing but scorn for their conduct of the War, but he did not doubt their courage.

The same friend, who knows far more about the First and Second World Wars than me, also told me that he felt that much of the cynicism about the First World War was a projection of the feelings of bitterness and alienation felt by many people after the Second, when the horrors of War and the Nazi regime seemed, to many, to discredit completely European culture. I dare say there is something in this, but, while the extent of such alienation after the First World War may have been exaggerated, the point remains that it was there.

Already in the 1920s there were complaints from British officers about left-wing propaganda about the War being spread by ‘acidulated radicals’. The film, Oh, What A Lovely War! is written from a left-wing perspective. It was based on the stage play, Journey’s End, which in its turn was based, I believe, on the experiences of First World War soldiers. The Fascist movements that sprang up all over Europe after the War, including Oswald Moseley’s BUF in Britain, were formed by ex-servicemen unable to adapt to civilian life, and who believed they had been betrayed by a corrupt political system. Martin Pugh in his book on Fascism in Britain 1918-1986, repeats that Moseley himself represented and kept true to the servicemen, who had fought and suffered in the War, and now had little to look forward to on their return to Blighty. I’m not so sure. Much of the conventional view about Mosely put out by Skidelsky’s biography has since been demolished. Rather than being a misguided, but at heart decent man, Moseley himself now appears very firmly as a cynical political manipulator all too eager and ready to jettison Mussolini’s ultra-nationalist, but originally non-racist Fascism, for the Nazis and Hitler. Nevertheless, the point remains: the First World created widespread bitterness, of which European Fascism was one expression.

As for Blackadder, this can be compared to the grim reality and the gallows humour with which British squaddies and their officers faced it in the pages of the Wipers Times. This was the servicemen’s newspapers, which took its name from the British mispronunciation of ‘Ypres’, where it was published. Private Eye’s editor, Ian Hislop, last year published a book and appeared on a BBC documentary about it. The Beeb also broadcast a drama about it. Hislop stated that it was full of very, very black humour, and was very much like Blackadder. You could hear the same sentiments expressed in the trooper’s songs of the period. Everyone remembers ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’, but there were others with much less patriotic view of the War. A year or so ago I came across an old songbook, Songs that Won the War. Published about the time of the Second, it collected the songs sung by the troops during the First. Amongst the various patriotic ditties was ‘We Are Fred Karno’s Army’. Fred Karno, remember, was the Music Hall impresario, who launched the career of silent move stars like Charlie Chaplin and the Keystone Kops. The final verse imagines how the British army will be greeted by the Kaiser when they finally reach Berlin. It has the Kaiser looking at them in horror and saying, ‘Vot, Vot! Mein Gott! Vot a shabby lot!’ Somehow, I don’t think that one has been played much at Tory party conferences.

Civilian music hall stars also shared in the deep disillusionment felt by the troops. In a programme on the Music Hall broadcast several years ago on Radio 4, the programme’s presenter, a historian of the Music Hall, noted that after the War variety stars became much more sombre in appearance. Before the War there were stars like ‘The One-Eyed Kaffir’, a White man, who blacked up for his act except for one eye, which was kept as a white patch. After the War, such grotesque make-up vanished. The presenter felt that this was part of a general, more sombre mood throughout British culture engendered by the War. This mood was felt most bitterly by some of the Music Hall stars, who had sung patriotic, jingoistic songs to encourage young men to do their bit and join up. One such singer became very bitter indeed, and stated that he felt personally responsible for the men, who had been maimed and murdered as a result of listening to him.

The bitterness about the War has been expressed most famously, and most movingly, by the great war poets, such as Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen and others less well-known. One of the books in my old school’s sixth form library was Up the Line to Death, an anthology of poetry from the First World War. As well as poetry, Sassoon wrote a letter, ‘The Declaration against War’, in 1917, during his convalescence after being wounded in France. Rather than risk the scandal of a court martial, Owen was declared to be shell-shocked and hospitalised. His declaration is one of the piece anthologised in Colin Firth’s and Anthony Arnove’s The People Speak: Democracy Is Not a Spectator Sport. Here it is:

‘I am making this statement as an act of wilful defiance of military authority, because I believe that the War is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it. I am a soldier, convinced that I am acting on behalf of soldiers. I believe that this War, on which I entered as a war of defence and liberation, has now become a war of aggression and conquest. I believe that the purpose for which I and my fellow soldiers entered upon this War should have been so clearly stated as to have made it impossible to change them, and that, had this been done, the objects which actuated us would now be attainable by negotiation.

I have seen and endured the sufferings of the troops, and I can no longer be a party to prolong these sufferings for ends which I believe to be evil and unjust. I am not protesting against the conduct of the War, but against the political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed.

On behalf of those who are suffering now I make this protest against the deception which is being practised on them; also I believe that I may help to destroy the callous complacency with which the majority of those at home regard the contrivance of agonies which they do not share and which they have not sufficient imagination to realise’.

The last line sounds very much like a condemnation of the invasion of Iraq and the Neo-Con ‘chickenhawks’ – men who had themselves never seen active service and who indeed had shirked it – that demanded it. And I’ve no doubt whatsoever that it’s applicability to this situation was one of the reasons Arnove and Firth selected it.

As for Owen, I can remember we did Owen’s poem, ‘Gassed’, in English. This describes the horrific state of squaddies left dying and blinded by mustard gas in conflict. It ends with words attacking and repudiating ‘the old lie, ‘Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori”, a Latin motto meaning ‘It is sweet and right to die for one’s country.

So there it is, Gove, a rejection of patriotism because of the carnage and suffering it caused, by two extremely courageous men, who fought and were injured in the War. I believe Owen was himself killed just before Armistice. Oh, you can argue that Blackadder is based on the prejudiced view of left-wing academics, but they based their views on fact – on what those who actually fought in it actually felt about it.

Yes, historians modify their views about the past all the time, as new research is done, and new arguments brought forth, new topics emerge and techniques used. And that means that some of the bitterness about the War has been revised. Yet there is no doubt that the War did result in mass bitterness amongst former combatants and the civilian population, and feelings of betrayal by the old society and elites that had sent so many to their deaths. Blackadder is fiction, and throughout its four series and numerous specials often took wild liberties with the facts. Yet Blackadder goes forth and its cynicism was based on fact, and I found, as someone who simply watched it, that the final moments of the last episode, in which Blackadder, Baldrick and their friends go over the Top to their deaths, actually a genuinely moving and respectful tribute to those who did die in the muck and trenches.

Way back in the 1980s the Observer wryly remarked that the Tories were now ‘the patriotic party’. This followed Thatcher’s vociferous trumpeting of patriotism as the great British value. ‘Don’t call them boojwah, call them British!’ screamed one headline from the Telegraph supporting her very class-based, politicised view of Britishness and patriotism.

Well, a wiser man, possibly, the great Irish wit, dear old butch Oscar (pace his description in Blackadder) once described patriotism as ‘the last refuge of the scoundrel’.
In this case, it is. And so is Gove.