It’s official. The world has been going mad for ages.
It all really started in the 1980s when it was determined that Enid Blyton’s Noddy books, those innocent stories from our childhood should be removed from library shelves, because they apparently promoted anarchy, racism, homophobia, sexism and any number of other deviant activities that could be possibly construed as offensive to some minority group somewhere or other. Round about that time I was working as a Trade Instructor in Hereford, and it was there that myself and my colleagues were told that we were no longer allowed to use the word Blackboard when describing the black board that was at the front of each of our classrooms. The word that we were to use in its place was Chalkboard, because (apparently) Blackboard was considered to be a racist word. These ridiculous decisions were not made (or even asked for) by the minority groups they were supposed to be representing.
No, those decisions were made by interfering white middle-class busy-bodies with too much money and time on their hands
Those were the halcyon days of political correctness, the days when you could, if you looked very hard, almost see where these reformers were coming from but as time moved on political correctness started to become decidedly surreal.
In her book My Invented Country, the Californian based Chilean novelist Isabel Allende described an incident when she asked for a rejected dog from the American version of our Guide Dogs for the Blind. She received an aggressive reply, bluntly informing her that the dogs were no longer to be referred to as rejected – the dogs in question had changed careers.
Brainstorming became unacceptable and instead you had to Mind Map or have a Thought Shower because the original term might upset people who suffer from epilepsy. But hang on, what about people who can’t make up their minds or people with no imagination – surely they would be equally offended by the terms Mind Mapping and Thought Shower!
Political correctness, it seemed, was destroying the world – survival of the fittest became survival of the unfittest, majority rule became minority rule.
The thing is – and this is what all the purveyors of PC never quite grasped – the majority of people didn’t care. The majority of people were not that thin skinned. Political Correctness may have been a good thing to begin with in order to protect people’s rights and dignity, but it went too far – it exceeded its usefulness. It became a joke. At first when a new PC word or phrase entered the lexicon you would have more than likely witnessed disbelief passing across people’s faces, but as it moved inexorably on those same people shook their heads in resignation at the sheer inevitability of it all.
The problem with telling people what words or phrases they can or can’t use creates another more serious problem. New words or phrases get invented or introduced to replace the ones that were denied and these would be more underhand, targeted and offensive, of which a good example is the name servicemen called the Falkland Islanders – Bennies. This was a term of endearment that referred to Paul Abbott’s character in the TV soap Crossroads who went around, like many Falkland Islanders, wearing a woolly hat at all times and was pleasant but not very bright. To the servicemen detached out there it seemed a perfect epithet. But someone higher up decided that the term Bennies was offensive and an order was published prohibiting its use. The very next day the servicemen had a new name for the Falkland Islanders – Stills. This was an altogether more subtle derogation than Bennies. The word Still was used as an adjective, with a silent word attached to it. The silent word was Bennies, so therefore the Falkland Islanders were still Bennies.
And talking of Bennies, whatever happened to Benny Hill. His TV shows have not appeared on our terrestrial TV screens for years. Why? Because it was decided that his brand of saucy seaside humour was deemed to be politically incorrect and that it was sexist and offensive to women. Instead of treasuring his work and looking at it in the context of the time it was made and the way it was intended he was banned. That didn’t stop our colonial cousins from across the pond accepting him with open arms. Benny Hill is loved by Americans, which might tell you something about their sense of humour, but it also tells us something about our own misplaced sensibilities. I, for once, am with the Americans on this one and Benny Hill should be remembered for the comic genius that he so obviously was. He did, after all, play Professor Peach in The Italian Job and give us the immortal lines: “Do you want it pasteurised, ‘cause pasteurised is best? She said, Ernie, I’d be ‘appy if it comes up to me chest,” in the most popular novelty record off all time Ernie, The Fastest Milkman in the West.
Bennie Hill may have been sacrificed at the altar of political correctness, but there is one series of films that, by their sheer popularity, have escaped virtually unscathed. They are, of course, the splendidly saucy Carry On films, my favourite of which is the wonderfully silly Carry On Camping (1969). It is a veritable feast of double-entendres and smutty innuendos that presents itself like a Donald McGill saucy seaside postcard that has come gloriously to life.
|Carry On Camping Poster|
It starts with Sid Boggle and Bernie Luggs (the wonderful Sidney James and Bernard Bresslaw) taking their repressed girlfriends, Joan Fussey and Anthea Meeks (Joan Sims and Dilys Lane) to the Playhouse Cinema to see a naturist film called Nudist Paradise, in the hope that they will agree to go with them on holiday to nudist camp. Joan is outraged by the film while Anthea is just plain embarrassed by it all. As the nudists in the film begin to play tennis and unfettered body parts start to jiggle around Anthea covers her eyes. “What’s the matter, An,” asks the rather dim Bernie, “don’t you like tennis?”
Sid, being Sid, tricks the girls into going with them to Paradise Camping Site, which he believes to be the camp in the film. When they get there they are greeted, to Sid’s delight, by a sign that reads ALL ASSES MUST BE SHOWN. “Where’s the manager?” Sid asks a boy standing by the sign. “He’s gone for a pee,” replies the boy. When the manager, Mr Fiddler (played by the marvellous Peter Butterworth) turns up, he puts a letter P in front of the word ASSES and to Joan’s delight they realise they’ve arrived at a normal camp site. It’s a great visual gag, one of many of which this film is bursting at the seams.
There’s a good story about Peter Butterworth. He was one of many actors who auditioned for one of the parts in the British WWII POW Escape film The Wooden Horse (1950), a true story about three RAF POWs who escaped via a tunnel they dug underneath a vaulting horse in Stalag Luft III. He was turned down because he didn’t look suitably heroic or athletic enough, which was ironic given that he was in actuality one of the POWs who, in 1943, vaulted over the Wooden Horse for hours on end to cover up the sound of digging.
Terry Scott and Betty Marsden are Peter and Harriet Potter, hen-pecked husband and wife with annoying laugh. There’s a scene when Charles Hawtry as Mr Muggins observes Harriet and Peter in their tent. Harriet is attempting to remove some buckshot from Peter’s backside. The tent is lit from inside and all Mr Muggins can see is the silhouette of them performing what appears some unusual sex routine. When Harriet offers Mr Muggins a space in their tent she is asked by him if they wouldn’t rather be alone. “Oh, we gave up that sort of thing years ago, didn’t we dear?” she says to Peter. “Yes, dear,” Peter replies, “you did, didn’t you.”
The actor/writer Mike Myers must have seen and remembered this when he was writing his knowingly hilarious Austin Powers films. Mike Myers grew up in Canada and his father was a great lover of British humour, and the Carry On films must have been on the list of things he watched. In fact, he must have liked it so much that he repeated the scene with increasing hilarity in the two sequels.
And then there’s the sex-mad pupils of Chayste Manor Boarding School for Girls, led by Barbara Windsor in all her fluffy, chortling glory. Accompanying them to the camp site are Dr Soaper (a manic Kenneth Williams) and the sexually repressed matron played by Hattie Jaques (who else?). The scene where Barbara’s bra pings off during an exercise session is a sight to behold and it wasn’t until Sharon Stone’s infamous pantie-less leg-crossing scene in Paul Verhoeven’s 1992 Basic Instinct did so many teenagers once again wear out the pause button on their VCRs.
In this day and age Carry On Camping would be regarding by the middle-class busybodies as Politically Incorrect and I, for one, am glad that there is at least some possibility of upsetting their delicate natures.
I mean, where on earth is all this Political Correctness going to stop?
Are we going to start calling Zebra Crossings Black and White Crossings because the term Zebra could be construed as being offensive to Striped Equines. Or maybe it needs to be changed because stupid people may think it’s actually a zebra lying in the middle of the road that’s been flattened by several thousand tons of heavy traffic. The problem is we can’t call them Black and White Crossings because the very term Black and White is offensive to two groups of people and possibly polar bears. And what about Pelican Crossings? Surely Semi-Aquatic birds should have a say in all this as well.
So what can we do about it?
I have a suggestion – it’s the only thing I can think of. Tonight at eight o’ clock I want everyone to hang out of their windows and shout at the top of their lungs the refrain used by Peter Finch’s desperately unhappy newsreader in Sidney Lumet’s brilliant 1976 film Network, “I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANY MORE!”
Go on – try it.
“I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANY MORE!”
Now, doesn’t that make you feel better?