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164829.  Wed Apr 11, 2007 8:03 am Reply with quote

In 1938, the British government banned an anti-Nazi satire, by the playwright Terence Rattigan - so as not to offend Herr Hitler.

Rattigan (unfairly, but almost universally, considered the last of the “anyone for tennis” playwrights who were swept away by the Angry Young Men, despite the fact that one of his pages is worth the whole of John Osborne put together) seems an unlikely candidate for censored dissident. But that’s exactly what he was.

Along with an Oxford university chum, Rattigan wrote “Follow My Leader,” set in Moronia (link to Fantasians), in which a plumber named Hans Sedesi becomes dictator (with hilarious consequences).

The Lord Chamberlain, covering his botty, referred the play to the Foreign Office; the German Embassy complained every time Germany and the Leader were mentioned disrespectfully, even if the context was a sketch at the Windmill.

The FO advised the Chamberlain, and the Chamberlain informed the theatre management, that the play “would not be in the best interest of the country.”

Some months later, Rattigan’s producer tried again, since a seriously anti-Nazi play by GBS had been licensed in the meantime. The Chamberlain explained that it was precisely because Rattigan’s play was a farce that it couldn't be allowed.

Rattigan submitted a revised version, which one official at the Lord Chamberlain's office championed, saying that any embassy which complained about it “would be suffering from a very far-fetched imagination and a guilty conscience.“

Rather splendidly, Rattigan pleaded thus: “I really think that our Fuehrer would find it very hard to recognise himself in the person of Hans Zedesi [sic], particularly if played by Robertson Hare.”

Norman Gwatkin, of the Chamberlain’s, then hit on the brilliant idea of sending the play directly to the German Embassy - even though he himself noted that Germans were “notoriously lacking in humour.” He was right; the Germans replied that they did not think the play “would be helpful in improving Anglo-German relations.”

Gwatkin thought this was probably fair dos; “the Lord Chamberlain has naturally to be very careful in not allowing any guying of the heads of foreign states,” and besides, “Germany were always very particular to prevent any objectionable references to the British royal family.”

Gwatkin noted that Rattigan was “very charming about it all.”

The punch line is rather wonderful; the play ran for just 16 performances in the West End in 1940. It had finally been cleared by the Chamberlain’s office (after a few minor changes; “piffling” for “piddling” and “cissie” for “pansy”), because, after the declaration of war, the office noted that: “There is no longer any reason why we should be anxious about hurting Nazi feelings.”

S: UK Writer (the WGGB magazine), Spring 2007.

165220.  Thu Apr 12, 2007 7:41 am Reply with quote

A pro-democracy demonstration, in 1833, by the National Union of Working Classes was violently attacked by police; a riotous battle ensued, during which a copper was stabbed to death. However, the men arrested for the killing were released with all charges dropped when the inquest produced a verdict of “justifiable homicide.”

S: Characters of Fitzrovia by Pentelow and Rowe (Pimlico, 2002).

166446.  Mon Apr 16, 2007 5:00 am Reply with quote

Re riots, see post 65367

166805.  Tue Apr 17, 2007 5:06 am Reply with quote

I have long wondered (and forgive me if I’ve posted this here before) - why a “four minute” warning?

dr.bob wrote:
Wasn't that how long it would take between initially detecting the Ruskie missiles on radar and having the things land in your back garden?

Or did I miss a meeting?

“Apologies for absence,” I suspect, Bob ...

In 1960, the British government “allowed” the US to build a Ballistic Missile Early Warning Station on Flyingdales Moor, Yorkshire. It was completed in 1964. Its purpose was to give the US sufficient warning of Soviet missiles heading its way to allow it to launch a retaliation: around 11 to 15 minutes. This ensured compliance with the policy of MAD. Many British people were outraged that an area of outstanding natural beauty was being destroyed purely to help the yanks kill people. The British “authorities” (in the Vichy sense, of course) announced that it was really there to help us - by giving us four minutes’ warning of an attack on the UK. This was, not surprisingly, widely ridiculed, and the phrase passed into the language. “As to whether it would have been four minutes - well, perhaps, on a good day.”
- readers’ letter in Fortean Times 201.

Or ...

The four minute warning was based on the imaginary Doomsday Clock, maintained since 1947 by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. It calculated how much warning Britain would have of incoming nuclear missiles. At the start of the 1980s, the Clock did read four minutes to midnight (midnight being when the bombs explode). But the basing of US cruise missiles in the UK in 1983, along with a change in US policy in favour of provoking and winning a “limited nuclear war” in Europe, meant that Britain became a much more likely target for direct attack by the USSR, and therefore the clock moved to three minutes to midnight. The withdrawal of the cruise missiles meant that in 1991, the clock stood at 17 minutes to midnight. It is currently at seven minutes to.
- readers’ letter, same source. [I think this correspondent is slightly confusing two things; the likelihood of a nuclear attack on Britain, with the duration of the warning; however, it’s still possible that the four minutes figure could originally have come from the Doomsday Clock].

Or ...

An editor’s note in the same issue of FT quotes “War Plan UK” by Duncan Campbell (Paladin, 1983) which traces the four minutes to “the linkup between Flyingdales and the Air Defence Operations Centre at RAF Bentley Priory near Stanmore.” He says this is the source of the four minutes and of “a great deal of defence mythology.” The author quotes “The Scientific Advisers’ Training Manual” issued by the Home Office: “No particular warning time can be guaranteed, but it is expected that the warning will be given not less than three minutes before an attack.” So as far as the UK government was concerned, for internal consumption at least, it was actually a three minute warning. The four-minute warning was, as I suspected, mythical.

One thing that gives me pause here is that four, in my experience, is rarely chosen as a “magic number” - three would be a much more typical choice. A friend of mine who remembers the 4-minute story being very current in the mid-1950s, suggests that the running of the first four-minute mile in 1954 may have made that a popular number, to which anything vaguely suitable might have been attached. That sounds as likely an explanation as any other!

167023.  Tue Apr 17, 2007 3:31 pm Reply with quote

Well I think that's a great topic, and in a way it doesn't matter that we don't know the answer because four minutes is such a plainly inadequate amount of time to be warned about anything at all other than the time till Sir's boiled egg will be ready. I particularly like the idea that it was because the Americans needed 15 minutes and it takes 11 minutes to get from us to them. Can't be right, though, surely - the missile would really have to be going like the clappers to cross the Atlantic in 11 minutes, wouldn't it?

From what you've said it looks as though there never was such a thing as s four-minute nuclear warning, and if that's the case it doesn't need explaining other than as a myth. Perhaps the air raid sirens during the 2nd WW were supposed to come 4 minutes before the planes arrived?

Lovely Rattigan stuff, too. Can't presently think how we could use it, unfortunately.

167038.  Tue Apr 17, 2007 3:45 pm Reply with quote

I dimly remember when very young seeing a saucy comic on TV saying, with a wink, to an infatuated young couple: "I know what you'll be doin' durin' the four minute warning! Eh? Not 'arf! Eh!" or something along those lines. I think it was generally assumed that that was what almost everyone would be doing during the four minutes, and I suppose a lot of weary old marrieds must have hoped they'd be at work when the siren went off ...

167039.  Tue Apr 17, 2007 3:46 pm Reply with quote

Oh, I see. Well, it'd be ample time for that, of course.

167040.  Tue Apr 17, 2007 3:47 pm Reply with quote

Lovely Rattigan stuff, too. Can't presently think how we could use it, unfortunately

You've never cancelled the special Rattigan episode? Damn, I do wish someone had told me, I've got simply hours of jokes about french windows here.

Frederick The Monk
167151.  Wed Apr 18, 2007 4:26 am Reply with quote

Flash wrote:
...... Can't be right, though, surely - the missile would really have to be going like the clappers to cross the Atlantic in 11 minutes, wouldn't it?

Impact speed for modern ICBMs is, I believe, around 4km/s so you're right. In think the timing is from confirmation by radar to impact and so suggests that the missile's are/ were not trackable in their boost phase.


167184.  Wed Apr 18, 2007 5:18 am Reply with quote

There's a terrific piece of metal in the Imperial War Museum from the wingtip of a souped-up spitfire that was actually used to nudge the wing of an incoming V1 rocket bomb during WW2, sending it into a field.

When the attacks began in mid-June of 1944 there were fewer than 30 Tempests in 150 Wing to defend against them. Few other aircraft had the low-altitude speed to be effective. Early attempts to intercept V-1s often failed but techniques were rapidly developed. These included the hair-raising method of using the airflow over an interceptor's wing to raise one wing of the Doodlebug, by sliding the wingtip under the V-1's wing and bringing it to within six inches (15 cm) of the lower surface. Done properly, the airflow would tip the V-1's wing up, overriding the buzz bomb's gyros and sending it into an out of control dive. At least three V-1s were destroyed this way.

Maybe some kind of fashion-oriented 'wingtip' gag, and how it helped save the country?

167189.  Wed Apr 18, 2007 5:29 am Reply with quote

Fred - I wonder whether Alan's buzzer sound on the England show should be a weather forecaster going something like

"And the heavy drizzle will set to pass through the middle of England on Tuesday night, with low cloud moving from East to West...etc etc"

Frederick The Monk
167254.  Wed Apr 18, 2007 7:15 am Reply with quote

Or possibly even the Michael Fish "there's not going to a hurricane' line?

167266.  Wed Apr 18, 2007 7:49 am Reply with quote

A body known as The United Kingdom Warning and Monitoring Organisation (UKWMO) was set up in 1957 to warn the population of any impending air attack. The organisation and the warning system are described within this site. The Royal Observer Corps (ROC) set up in WW2 became the heart of the UKWMO in the cold war.

Some interesting background to the four minute warning, at, which includes the notable point that:

The end of the UKWMO was announced in Parliament on 12 November 1992. Everything described on this site is historic, the bunkers sold off and the warning system dismantled. There is currently no public warning system in the United Kingdom.

Which suggests a possible question for this topic:

“How will we know when the nukes are on their way?”

The forfeit, obviously, is “the four-minute warning,” on the double grounds that not only was there never going to be a four-minute warning - now there isn’t any sort of warning!

Incidentally, I’m not sure how all this ended up under “England,” but obviously it should be in “End of the World.”

167279.  Wed Apr 18, 2007 8:15 am Reply with quote

Noodling around after four minute warnings, I came across a typically bad-tempered and mistyped discussion board (which, like every other discussion board since the invention of the internet, very quickly comes down to cyberspace’s sole topic of discussion: The US is great. No it isn’t, it smells. No, FYI, you are incorrect and it’s everywhere else that smells.)

Anyway, I thought these two, completely unsourced, snippets were of some interest:

The second atomic bomb to hit Japan, Fat Man, was scheduled to be dropped at Kokura. However, because of poor weather the target was moved to Nagasaki. Nagasaki was not amongst the cities that received prior warning of the attack. Warning Leaflets were dropped the next day.


I stayed in Dover, England once while on holiday. The people living there would tell of the last days of WWII and how they had just enough time to finish a pint after hearing the report of bombs (non nuclear, or course) being launched from Calais (sp?) across the channel before they had to take shelter. Apx 4 minutes

167308.  Wed Apr 18, 2007 9:22 am Reply with quote

Id be surprised if the Germans wasted any time bombing Dover, unless they felt like helping clean it up a bit.


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