The VE day gag that never made it
It wasn't the ceremonial that was the problem - even if parts of it rang with a brassy note. Reading Churchill's VE day speech, for example, Robert Hardy strained his vocal cords into a fanfare. It was a cock crowing beside the actual recording (heard repeatedly over the last few days), reminding you how underplayed, how oddly conversational Churchill's rhetorical style could be. In his rendering of the speech there is a sense of ending, of real fatigue - in Hardy's something shriller and more boastful. Performed 50 years on, to an audience most of whom were not alive when the words were first spoken, it sounded like a wish rather than a statement of fact. If only someone could say that to us, you thought. But then what victory could we celebrate with such unanimous fervour? And what would our just deserts be?
There was the same wistful catch to much of the celebrations; ostensibly the mood of the moment was "Never again", but the solemn speeches couldn't conceal the nostalgia for common purpose, for a sense of solidarity that now feels as antique as powdered egg. Sometimes this was explicit - the BBC excitedly relayed the information that the Prince and Princess of Wales had behaved with moderate civility to each other as if this was the closest we could now get to a moment of national relief. Sometimes it was cynically exploited, as in BT's singularly shabby attempt to get us to increase our phone bills in the interest of world peace. Sometimes it was just kitsch - Chas 'n' Dave singing "We're gonna rang aht the washin' on the Siegfried Line", confirming the general view that there is some Cockney copyright on cheery, salt-of-the-earth fortitude.
It might have been better if everyone under 60 had taken a vow of silence for the day and spent it listening to their elders, a fantasy provoked by the most moving of all the VE day programmes, Last Letters Home (ITV). Tamsin Day-Lewis's film was very simple - those who had survived reading letters from those who hadn't. There is, perhaps, an easy poignancy in such documents, one that overrides clich and clumsiness of expression. The wealth of meaning in these tattered pieces of paper is touchingly fragile - how long can it survive those who unfold them so tenderly? But what the letters repeatedly brought home was how thoughtful courage could be. Unpatriotic too, in a way that formed a quiet, unconscious rebuke to the coarser flag-waving of the last few days. None of the correspondents wrote about Britain as such (though one schoolmaster had enlisted to save the boys he taught from Hitler); they talked of larger principles - of freedom and appropriate sacrifice. In some, the occasions of writing could be glimpsed like a watermark; a bomber pilot describes a sudden apprehension of beauty in a country lane, on his way back to his unit. "I'm fighting for the freedom of all men," he writes to his fiance, "and in that I'm fighting just as much for the Germans as for the English people. With freedom and the destruction of hate this world will enter into a period, I hope, that will be much in advance of anything it has known." You couldn't really feel that David Frost had done him proud.
Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boymusic
Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Katie Hopkins attacked me on Twitter — so I reported her to the police for inciting racial hatred
- 2 I might be an MP, but that doesn't stop me fighting sexism with my breasts
- 3 Google April Fools': company unveils backwards search engine and huggable digital assistant
- 4 April Fools' Day 2015: The best hoax news stories from around the internet
- 5 Gamers confess the worst things they've done in The Sims
Gaza Banksy mural sold to 'conman' for just $175
Tidal launch: The most pretentious lines from Alicia Keys' valedictory speech
Tidal: Jay Z's Spotify rival criticised for making wealthy artists even richer
Top Gear live to go ahead: Jeremy Clarkson to join Richard Hammond and James May... just don't call it Top Gear
James May hints he will not continue on Top Gear without Jeremy Clarkson
Ukip supporters are 55 or older, white and socially conservative, finds British Social Attitudes Report
Street preacher quoting from the Bible fined for calling homosexuality an 'abomination'
Katie Hopkins attacked me on Twitter — so I reported her to the police for inciting racial hatred
Woman filmed launching racist tirade against men on the Tube for speaking in 'own lingo'
The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
David Cameron calls Labour 'hopeless, sneering socialists' while announcing 7-day NHS plans