This is no laughing matter for the leadership contender
Charles Moore has dug up quite the quote from Tory leadership hopeful Penny Mordaunt today. In her 2021 book Greater: Britain After The Storm she reveals that she hates Dad’s Army and the other sitcoms written by Jimmy Perry and David Croft.
This sounds desperately trivial, because it is, but Moore has really exposed Mordaunt’s flank here. Asking the British public to like you — more specifically, asking elderly Tory members — if you hate Dad’s Army, is a bit like the cat bin woman hoping to be made CEO of the RSPCA.
Hilariously Mordaunt describes It Ain’t Half Hot Mum as “a full-house bingo card of… casual racism, homophobia, white privilege, colonialism, transphobia, bullying, misogyny and sexual harassment”.
Yes, all those things are, technically, depicted and mostly they come from one character, Sergeant Major ‘Shut up!’ Williams. But there is no malice in It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, and they are all depicted as bad things.
Sergeant Major Williams is not the hero. He is the butt of almost every joke. The main wellspring of the humour comes from his utter lack of comprehension at the gleeful naughtiness and informality of the concert party. At the party is an amiable jumble of hopeless young men, including a drag queen, and a boffin, as well as Indian and Burmese characters. The final episodes treats Williams as a pitiable figure and, tellingly, Muhammed the ‘chah wallah’ sets off for Britain to join his friends. It would actually be very easy to read this show as a ‘queer-positive’ satire on the fading days of a laughable empire.
Trying to map 21st century social justice ideology onto it is hilarious, and rather like — in fact, exactly like — a politician in 1972 opining on George Robey, 1922’s ‘Prime Minister of Mirth’.
As for the TV shows’ “nostalgic focus” — wrong again, Penny. Most of the characters lead miserable, unfulfilled, lives. One of the main tenets of Hi-de-Hi! is that the entertainers at the holiday camp are disappointed, tragic figures whose turns aren’t very good. Anybody who watches You Rang M’Lord? and thinks it’s advocating a return to the grotesque social inequality it satirises is an idiot. The entire conceit of Dad’s Army is that the Home Guard was bloody useless. As Clive James once remarked, if Corporal Jones is the only thing standing between you and Dachau, what can you do but laugh?
What all these shows do have is a sense of community and togetherness among those at the bottom of the heap, and a generous, big-hearted spirit. Ironically they are the very acme of inclusion. Melvyn Hayes’s camp ‘Gloria’ Beaumont is the leader of the gang, loved by his mates. The outrageously open lesbian Cissy Meldrum of You Rang M’Lord? is a social reformer, the only person upstairs that the downstairs unequivocally take to their hearts.
What Mordaunt is doing here is common among politicians desperate to display their progressive credentials — making a confident pronouncement of hate or love about some cultural artefact in the mistaken belief it will make you look hip. David Cameron’s toe-curling profession of love of The Smiths, Gordon Brown’s for the Arctic Monkeys, or Jeremy Corbyn pretending to watch Eastenders. Let us not forget how the drawn-out downfall of Boris Johnson began with Peppa Pig.
It doesn’t make them look like one of us. In Mordaunt’s case, with her electorate both small and potentially very large, it could be suicidal. Bye-de-bye, Penny.