Goodbye Sergeant Major

Many will regret the passing of that great comic actor Windsor Davies, whose depiction of Battery Sergeant Major Williams in It Ain’t Half Hot Mum made us laugh till our sides ached. We laughed all-the-more because the character, based on one of Davies’ own sergeant majors during his National Service, was so true to life – as indeed were the hopeless bunch of misfits he dreamed of turning into fighting men in the form of the Royal Artillery concert party stationed in India towards the end of the War. There was Lofty, the diminutive Gunner Sugden, who wore an outsized solar topee to protect him from the sun; Mr La-di-da Gunner Graham, who invariably ended his sentences with an erudite word which Williams would mimic getting it wrong in the process; the effeminate Gloria, played by Melvyn Hayes, who had dreams of Hollywood stardom.

The show cannot be shown anymore on the BBC because it might cause offence, the attitudes it depicts now deemed stereotypical, homophobic, racist, inappropriate and completely unacceptable in a vibrant diverse multicultural society. Yet it depicted things exactly as they were at the time, the legendary comedy writing team of Jimmy Perry and David Croft (of Dad’s Army fame) both having served in the war, Perry in a Royal Artillery Concert Party in Burma. It poked gentle fun at all and sundry in equal measure – the effete British officer class, the virile sergeant major who thought his concert party ‘a bunch of poofs’, the native Indian who refers to his compatriots as ‘damned natives’, the outrageously effeminate drag artiste. There was controversy even in the 1970s when Michael Bates was chosen to play the part of Indian bearer Rangi Ram. But his virtuoso performance delighted even his Indian critics. Bates, who loved India, had been raised in India, spoke fluent Urdu and Hindi, and even served with the Chindits behind Japanese lines, was, it turned out, the perfect choice.

Commenting on the BBC’s decision not to repeat It Ain’t Half Hot Mum on grounds of its political incorrectness, Jimmy Perry lamented that, ‘Too many executives at the BBC have rather too little idea what reality looks like. They are Oxbridge graduates trained by other Oxbridge graduates who learnt what they know from still more Oxbridge graduates.’ If only this were true. Unfortunately, the new reality is understood only too well by BBC executives. They are playing their full part in the wilful destruction of our national culture, the banishment of our history, the wholesale deconstruction of our sense of identity, our shared loyalties, experiences and memories.

In the old days, we recognised our differences and laughed at them, we laughed at others as we laughed at ourselves, and in so doing we drew closer together as a community and as a nation. In this brave new world, in which our every thought and utterance is rigorously policed in the name of diversity and inclusivity, we keep our thoughts to ourselves. Instead of giving vent to our treasured prejudices and drawing their sting through laughter, these prejudices fester in private as we live apart in divided communities, mistrustful and suspicious of each other, with those who were supposed to be equalised left more ‘marginalised’ than ever before. We bide our time. And we shun the anodyne Newspeak of the BBC, preferring to share our memories and our laughs in private with old friends in the company of the wonderful Windsor Davies and the rest of the gang.

5 Comments on Goodbye Sergeant Major

  1. It was a favourite in our household, particularly enjoyed by my father, who had served in the British Army in India after the war. He once even sighted Gandhi, holding court in a village. Upon sight of a British soldier, the Mahatma’s followers temporarily suspended their vow of pacifism and tried to stone him.

    Egg banjos, Punkah wallahs, extreme heat and long periods of pointless parading and boot polishing – it brought it all back for him. He was deeply fond of India and Indians and about as far from a racist as you could imagine (though now, he and his kind have been reinvented as monstrous imperialists).

    I did one meet Donald Hewlett, who played Colonel Charles Reynold in It Ain’t Half Hot Mum. He was exactly like the character he played.

    I’ve just watched Icons – Activists, the BBC’s latest round of cultural indoctrination. It has proven to be dire. In Activists, some Asian celebrity sang praise to Gandhi – the British were astonishingly brutal, the unprecedented mass murders and rapes that occasioned the creation of Pakistan somehow Britain’s fault, and so on.

    Oddly, there was no mention of Gandhi’s infamous ‘celibacy test’, that he concocted after his wife died in 1944. The legendary pacifist began to share his bed with naked young women including his doctor, Sushila Nayar, and his grandnieces Abha and Manu (who were then in their late teens and about 60 years younger than him at the time). Whether he was testing his own celibacy or theirs has been lost to history.

    Sgt Major Williams would have sorted him out.

  2. I’m sorry to say that I did not find the tribute that funny, and I suspect that harking back to those freer days will only invite more attacks from white liberals, those self-appointed guardians of minority sensitivities.

    Instead of going on the defensive and muttering to yourselves in Fahrenheit 451-style fatalism, you Brit conservatives need to go on the offensive by pointing out at every opportunity how the libs are stifling free speech, do not understand irony or humor, are being highly selective in their accusations of only white racism, and in fact have a racist mindset themselves as they tend to be overly conscious of skin color and ethnic origins.

  3. Conservatives have money, right? All those Thatcherite wealth creators.

    So start funding fiction, night-schools and other cultural artifacts to support your point of view. Stop moaning and start a long march through the institutions. You have the money, you have the brains, get on with it.

    • Your comment raises a seminal point, Mr Hicking: why not fight back? Sir Roger Scruton, in his analysis of what it is to be ‘conservative’, provides an answer, at least in part.
      True conservatives love their home, in both the personal and the national sense. They are not motivated to change society other than when what has always worked well needs improvement or change. Acordingly, they lack the zealot’s organisational skills, along with the latter’s appetite for wholesale change. All this together with the Long March the Left began under Gramsci in the 1920s means that generations of Britons have now been persuaded against the merits of nationhood. (Indeed, Baroness Thatcher herself was a radical who sought an economic solution to all things, social problems as well. Her main conservative trait was an unswerving patriotism. The imbalance is now patent.)

      So, whither England? As an Anglophilic Australian – whose own country suffers at the hands of the same enemy – I look for alternatives to despair. Its a tough search.

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