Tuesday, January 06, 2009


I read a lot of Sapper, Buchan and Conan Doyle in those twilight years between Biggles , Tom Merry and Gray's Anatomy. 
It was  Sapper, Herman Cyril McNeile of the Royal Engineers, and his Bulldog Drummond books that I really enjoyed most  because he was the exciting James Bond of my day,with his  fast cars, martinis, and dealing with villains like Carl Peterson. It is true that the ideas and opinions expressed almost everyday in an English public school in the 1950s were not much different than those in the Sapper and Buchan books, but I was slightly shocked to read much later in an introduction to Bulldog Drummond.

They spoke of England and notionally if not overtly, that meant the white man ('clean white through and through' in character too) home or colonial.... a match for any two foreigners. 
Starting at Calais were the niggers, the Frogs, the boches, the Bolshies, the dagoes and the stateless Jews..... 
Sapper, perhaps most confidently of all those authors , put the Englishman on a pedestal above all lesser breeds.

I  admit when I read the books I missed most of the xenophobia, anti-Semitism and racism because I was only 12. But early last month I was surprised to read a review in The Guardian [see full review here] that ended:

So yes it is imperial fantasy just the kind of thing Guardian readers should be shaking their heads and going tut-tut about.
But being Guardian readers you will know that you are immune from the dangers of such fantasy and you can enjoy the work on a simple more straightforward level as a rattling good yarn. 

It is a good review and at least puts the book in an historical perspective but when Guardian readers are reading 'Sapper' it worries me what Daily Mail and The Sun readers might explore.   


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