This seasonal wartime propaganda short was produced for the American market and has since become a minor classic of the genre, also being nominated for the Best Documentary (Short Subject) Oscar in 1942. Written and narrated by the London-based US journalist Quentin Reynolds (1902–1965) (whose distinctively intimate voice can also be heard on the previous year’s now-iconic London Can Take It!, also aimed at American cinemagoers), this film tells the story of Britain during the Christmas of 1940, when the country was quite literally under fire.
Wearing its propaganda colours firmly on its sleeve right from the off (the opening shot tells us this is a ‘Ministry of Information film’), this film knows exactly which buttons to press in order to get an emotional and visceral reaction from the average American viewer. As a result, there are vivid images of the way the war has had an impact on what Reynolds sees as the timeless peace of British life – so there are shots of shelterers in the London Underground, children playing at soldiers, troops watching out for enemy planes or manning guns in British cities and countryside, and bombed-out shopkeepers in what remains of their premises, declaring ‘business as usual’.
It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these! Over the years it has become a bit of a tradition on Another Kind Of Mind that, whenever an election rolls round, I take great delight in poking, prodding and generally pulling apart the ‘Election Communication’ leaflets (read: abject propaganda) which the various parties stuff through your letterbox in a vain attempt to win your vote. Most people just chuck these leaflets into the recycling without even bothering to look at them – but I read and analyse (more like laugh at) these political communications so you don’t have to…
So far, I have been bombarded with half a tree’s worth of rubbish from the Labour Party, a rather shouty leaflet from the Tories which made me feel slightly ill, and some vaguely odd (and almost semi-literate) offerings from several tiny and relatively new political parties that I had, I must confess, not previously heard of. I have had nothing at all from the Liberal Democrats (big surprise!) or from the Greens (perhaps they are saving on paper to offset all the leaflets Labour have sent out?).
Of all these glaring omissions, I am most disappointed that I haven’t been favoured with any UKIP propaganda this time round (shame, I always enjoy being rude about them), especially since one of their local election candidates in the ward next door to mine produced some campaign leaflets which were so spectacularly weird that they got him deselected by the local branch of the party* – but despite this sad and sorry loss to my rant, we will carry on regardless with what I do have.
First up, and simply because they sent me so much crap, is Labour. Although they all promise rather desperately to “act to deal with David Cameron’s cost-of-living crisis”, these leaflets feature the usual digs at the Tories and UKIP (“Don’t be taken in by the other parties…”), and some of it manages to be both prescriptive and patronising at the same time too – which certainly puts me off (“This is what your ballot will look like. Put a cross in the box next to Labour” Um, thanks but no thanks, Ed).
One point in Labour’s favour is that they are the only party who have actually sent me information about their candidates for the local elections (everything else I’ve had from everyone else has been specifically about the European vote), but that doesn’t let them off the hook, I’m afraid. Sorry, Labour supporters, but I still don’t trust them – taking the word ‘New’ off the front of the party name and pretending your leader wasn’t actually in the Blair cabinet isn’t really enough for me…
Kings and queens don’t usually feature that highly among my regular historical interests, but even I was fascinated to learn last month that the skeletal remains found during a recent archaeological dig in a Leicester car park (of all places…) have been identified as those of Richard III, the last Yorkist king of England – whose body had been considered all but lost for centuries. And the twists and turns of this complex historical detective story got me thinking about history and about how we portray and interpret it.
Richard has long been a controversial figure historically. Not initially ‘born to be king’, he is believed by many to have been a severely physically disabled and emotionally embittered man who connived his way to the throne, murdering his young nephews in the process (these nephews being the sad little figures known to history as ‘The Princes in the Tower’); a dark image both reinforced and exacerbated by the works of some near-contemporary chroniclers, later plays such as that by William Shakespeare, and countless portraits and engravings produced long after Richard’s death.
A letter from the leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition! Aren’t I a lucky girl!?
Well no, not really, for it was yet more postal propaganda rubbish – although I’m not yet entirely sure whether it’s better or worse than receiving a (similar) letter from David Cameron, as I did during the general election campaign last year…
I don’t belong to any political party or trade union – I’m actually strictly politically non-partisan (in that I despise all the major – and most of the minor – political parties equally), but I have also long been fascinated by the various factions and their increasingly desperate attempts to drum up support over the last few years by swamping our letterboxes with junk mail propaganda.
In my case, I get crap personally addressed to me from all of them (via the electoral register?), but the Labour Party is especially guilty of sending me a deluge of junk mail – probably a side effect of a number of years of persistent letter writing to my old Labour MP (her team seems to have added me to an extra super-annoying mailshot database somewhere along the line – without my permission, I might add!).
“THE ENGLISH DEMOCRATS: NOT LEFT, NOT RIGHT, JUST ENGLISH”
Hmmm. I guess I must be English. I was born in London, have a tendency to talk about the weather a lot, drink far too much tea, and whinge about the form of the England football team on a fairly regular basis. I’m sure you know lots of people like that. You may even be English yourself.
But there’s more to me than “just English”. No-one is “just” anything, not even the English – despite that famous understatement we’re supposed to have. I may be English by birth, but, like most English people, my ancestry is a bit more complicated than that (Welsh and German, if you’re that curious). That’s part of what being English is. We all have our own version of it. We’re a nation of immigrants, right back to our earliest days.
However, I don’t recognise the version of ‘English’ put forward by the English Democrats, whose slightly upper-case obsessed and shouty election literature is the latest to arrive on my doormat.
“time to put ENGLAND first!”
it announces, although it took me some time to figure that out as the leaflet is also covered in untidy (but just about properly punctuated) block capital marker pen scrawl:
With the election now widely assumed to be on May 6th, the campaign for Britain’s hearts and minds has really begun in earnest, although said campaign doesn’t seem to be working very well – that’ll be on all sides, but particularly on that of the current New Labour government – even before Tony Blair weighed in with his dubious backing of Brown.
For example, the recent budget (which may not even ever be fully implemented at this rate) can only be described as a prime example of New Labour desperation and a rather pathetic attempt at saving the government’s electoral skin. In fact, this governmental desperation is already at such levels that this year’s Guardian April Fool on Labour’s alleged new hard-man-vote-Labour-or-else election strategy actually came very close to being convincing. Scary.
And it’s only going to get worse. I had already received my first batch of election propaganda back in late February, and now, in early April, even more of this rubbish has started coming through my letter box at a steady rate – and the quality of it has got so bad that it would actually be hilarious if this election wasn’t so damn important.
Just like last time, the Tory propaganda was the first to arrive, complete with exactly the same set of slightly sinister photos of that identikit Tory blonde candidate we saw before. However, instead of their previous desperate attempts at politely begging the reader to vote Conservative, this time their desperation just seeps through the paper:
You can tell it’s almost full-blown election season again.
For months, the newspapers have been full of the usual pre-election political squabbling over policy matters (and, this time round, there’s the added bonus of accusations of Prime Ministerial bullying) and the trashing of what little is left of any given opposing Honourable Person’s reputation, all undertaken in the desperate hope of just edging past one’s opponents in the polls.
Unsurprisingly, the inevitable satire campaign has been up and running for quite a while too, giving those of us of a more politically cynical persuasion some well-deserved amusement, particularly at the expense of the Tories and the incompetence of their election propaganda goons.
But then, yesterday, when the postman arrived, I finally knew that the campaign was officially beginning in earnest: the first set of election-related political literature dropped onto my doormat with the morning post.
Here we go again, I thought, and immediately reached for my laptop…
For a change, it is the Tories who have been quickest off the mark, producing a shiny, brightly-coloured, determinedly upbeat fold-out leaflet and an attempt at a fiercely self-important local newsletter; both featuring multiple images of an equally shiny, brightly-coloured and determinedly upbeat-looking thirtysomething identikit Tory blonde who insists she is “working hard” and “fighting” for “a change for the better” in the local area. Or something.