Television Review

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The Independent Culture
ALAN COREN once published a collection of his writings under the title Golfing for Cats and put a swastika on the front cover, on the grounds that the most popular subjects for books were golfing, cats and the Third Reich. Much the same thinking seems to have provided the rationale for last night's Second World War documentary, Sex and the Swastika (C4). At any rate, there wasn't much internal logic apparent in the way that this feature yoked together two disparate themes.

The first part of the programme dealt with the work of the Political Warfare Executive, the government department responsible for putting out "black propaganda" - smears, innuendo and disinformation aimed at fomenting revolt in occupied Europe and spreading alarm and despondency among the Germans. The crucial insight that underlay their work came from Sefton Delmer, head of the PWE's German section and, naturally, a former journalist. His thinking was that the one way to get people to pay attention is to give them smut. This may seem obvious now (although a glance at Channel 5's ratings suggests smut's value can be overstated). But in the early 1940s, it was evidently a blistering innovation - one government minister is supposed to have said that he would rather lose the war than win it by such vile means.

Nevertheless, Delmer got his way, and German soldiers became the target of a campaign of radio broadcasts and leaflets, in which scurrilous (but often well-sourced) gossip about the sexual activities of the German high command was sprinkled with more angst-making stuff about what wives and girlfriends were up to back home. The historian MRD Foot turned up to point out that such filth was not ("of course") aimed at the officer class, but at the enlisted men, who were thought to have "an ordinary man's interest in sex, and an ordinary man's capacity to be fascinated by sexual detail".

One German veteran showed up to testify to the effectiveness of PWE's propaganda. But intuition suggests a lot of this stuff can't have had much impact: a radio station aimed at U-boat crews apparently told them that one of their commanders liked to hire sex-starved U-boat crews to service his young mistress while he watched. To be honest, if I were cooped up in a submarine in the north Atlantic I think I'd be too busy wondering how to apply for the job to feel very demoralised.

There were some pleasantly ribald moments. Marion Whitehorn, one of the PWE's designers and now a rather severe-looking old lady, explained proudly how she was ordered to superimpose a penis on a photograph of Hitler in lederhosen - "But not too big," they added.

The programme itself could have heeded that advice: willies seemed to have been blown up out of all proportion to their importance and obscured the wider story of British wartime propaganda. The seaside-postcard undertone wasn't helped by the actor reading out transcripts of broadcasts in a "Ve haf vays of makink you tock" accent.

The rest of the programme's hour was devoted to the project, sponsored by American intelligence, to compile a psycho-sexual profile of Hitler himself - their conclusions, we were warned, "made the PWE's salacious gossip... look like a children's bedtime story". Actually, their conclusions consisted of more salacious gossip (about Hitler's supposed sadomasochistic tendencies and "probable" involvement in the death of his niece), linked together with what now looks very old-fashioned Freudian psychobabble. I don't think Channel 4 was aiming this one at the officer class.

Andy Warhol prophesied 15 minutes of fame for everybody, but modern celebrity is proving more durable than that. This week, we have been besieged with ghosts: at the weekend, Jill Dando featured in a posthumous outing in Antiques Roadshow ("It's what she would have wanted"), and last night Jennifer Paterson started her final road-tour as one of the Two Fat Ladies (BBC2). The recipes here I could live without, but Paterson in black leather astride a motorcycle, speeding across a blank expanse of pale sand - that picture is strange enough, redolent enough of other worlds, other times, to carry the programme by itself. And there was some lovely repartee; as Paterson peeled an onion, Clarissa Dickson Wright began musing on the Indian onion shortage. Paterson acted unsurprised: "My dear," she said, "Think of all the bhajis." One of the immortals.

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