Invisible Ink: No 86 - Clifford Mills
Sunday 24 July 2011
Once upon a time, this book was considered ideal for every child's bedroom.
In it, an illustration showed a girl being yanked into a shadowy forest by razor-clawed homunculi.
It was captioned "Rosamund is Dragged into the Black Wood by Imps". Even as a child, I had a bad feeling about what the author was suggesting.
The author was Clifford Mills, who wrote the piece, Where the Rainbow Ends, as a Christmas entertainment with music for adults and children, and opened it at the Savoy Theatre in 1911, with Jack Hawkins and Noël Coward among the 40 kids in the cast. The show was produced by Italia Conti, and it was the play's phenomenal success that led to Conti setting up her children's acting school.
"Clifford Mills" was, in fact, a woman. Her play concerned an "ordinary" group of children led by Rosamund and the naval cadet Crispin, who have a lion cub dressed in red, white and blue. After being visited by St George, they board a threadbare magic carpet called Faith because England Needs Help.
The directions for how to reach Where the Rainbow Ends are hidden in a library, and Crispin summons his best friend Blunders as comic relief. Once there, they must fight their evil aunt and uncle, and take on the Dragon King. Rosamund is promptly tied to a tree and attacked by hyenas while St George fights the Dragon King on a tower.
The play became a best-selling novel that delighted generations of children who failed to notice its jingoistic, racist tones. Much mention is made of the rightness of being an Englishman, while a genie appears to be swarthy and Jewish. A magic potion labelled "EMPIRE MIXTURE: Poison to Traitors" kills the evil uncle and aunt, and they're eaten by the hyenas. A frontispiece shows four blue-eyed blond children staring adoringly at the St George's Cross flag. Rosamund asks protection of St George by telling him "I am an English maiden in danger and I seek your aid."
The play ended with St George coming to the footlights and crying out "Rise, Youth of England, let your voices ring, For God, for Britain, and for Britain's King", at which point everyone sang the National Anthem.
For 40 years, Where the Rainbow Ends was as big as Peter Pan – it had everything; goblins, elves, magic, battles, creepy living trees, songs and a cuddly animal. Unfortunately it held something else: the roots of fascism.
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