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.