By Mike Swadling
Misery loves company they say, so on the 30th December last year I made a point of telling a few people the day was the 40th anniversary of the first broadcast of ‘Allo ‘Allo! This knowledge having made me feel rather old, was only fair, to share. The show broadcast for 10 years, was a comedy set in German occupied France in WW2 and followed René Artois, a café owner and his escapades with the resistance, the Germans, the waitresses, shot down airmen, and his family.
Even if you don’t remember the show, you are bound to know many of its catch phrases that have made it into the lexicon. “Listen very carefully, I will say this only once” is a critical start to any sentence giving instructions, just as “It is I, LeClerc!” is a necessary statement to break cover for any master of disguise. I would advise reader discretion when saying “You stupid woman”, but get it right and it could be a “Good moaning” for you. Beyond the great catchphrases and innuendo, what ‘Allo ‘Allo! really epitomised was being the last great show before the break between the post war world where grim reality had governed people’s lives, and the post-cold war world where feelings reign supreme.
I, like many, grew up in a house with parents who had lived through rationing and where no food went to waist. Most people I knew didn’t have double glazing, few had central heating. We spent much of the winter dashing to the one room with heating, something modern Net Zero policies are reintroducing for many. Most adults knew something about how hard life could be, and even in the free world we lived under the existential threat of nuclear war and the aggression of the Soviet Union. Except for when someone close to them had died, I don’t remember any of the adults in my life thinking they should talk about their feelings; they were simply too busy getting on with life.
Around the same time as the 40th anniversary of ‘Allo ‘Allo!’s debut, stories of how Prince Harry ended up wearing a Nazi uniform were circulating. I don’t have an opinion (or very much care) why Prince Harry or anyone at the party was wearing any particular outfit, but it did make me think how, how we treat evil has changed. In the hullabaloo around Prince Harry’s costume, I couldn’t help but think of my memory of watching ‘Allo ‘Allo! with a mix of family members. Some had been evacuees, one had evacuees stay in their home, another had their young children evacuated from them, and one had literally fought Nazis. All laughed heartily at the comedic Germans on the screen. Of course, many of the actors had also served during the war.
We once knew how to deal with those we disliked, through mockery. We weren’t offended by Kenny Everett dressed as Hitler, or Dick Emery as a German Army officer. No one was triggered by Hogan’s Heroes or Monty Python Communist Quiz sketch. No safe space was needed from Comrade Dad (a much-overlooked comedy starring George Cole, set in Londongrad, the capital of the USSR-GB). These comedy shows didn’t need to protect us from images of evil. Instead, the post war world (and before with Chaplin in The Great Dictator) knew the best defence against the twin evils of National and International Socialism was mockery and ridicule.
40 years ago, the BBC could make good comedy. Comedy that knew how we could mock our own sloppiness and arrogance (the British Airmen, and the Police Officer), the Germans officialdom (Colonel Kurt von Strohm, Lieutenant Hubert Gruber, and Herr Flick of the Gestapo), whilst admiring the French (especially the waitresses, Yvette Carte-Blanche and Maria Recamier). We knew that consenting adults might be pulled together in stressful situations (or frankly any situation), and deal with a little smut and inuendo, but alas no more. It would take greater smuggling skills to get such a comedy out of the BBC these days than it took to hide The Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies. If you want to be reminded of some of the best bits of the show here’s a good place to start. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OtQxugFYQqs If you think you’re at risk of being offended, maybe still give it a go, and remember those that fought Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan and Fascist Italy, used to laugh at it.
Images details Alloallotitle – ‘Allo ‘Allo! – Wikipedia