Comment: 'The Full Monty': not how I think of the Field-Marshall

The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold
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Indy Lifestyle Online
I rarely venture into the cinema, though I remember enjoying the first half of My Fair Lady before all the kissing and "heavy petting" (dread activity!), much of it off-camera, forced me to up-sticks and leave. Word reached me, however, of a new film (never "movie", if you please!) called The Full Monty. A great admirer of the Field Marshall's, I broke the habit of a lifetime and purchased a seat in the stalls.

Early in the film, my sixth sense told me that it was highly unlikely that the Field Marshal was going to get a look-in. Instead, a motley collection of English working-men (a contradiction in terms? I jest!) was to be seen prancing around an ill-swept warehouse in various states of undress. As the film progressed, the chances of Montgomery himself entering the warehouse in battle fatigues and soft cap, moustache a-bristle, seemed to grow increasingly unlikely. Though ever the showman, Monty was always scrupulously careful to keep within the bounds of common decency. To the best of my knowledge, he performed a full striptease on one occasion only, in the Spring of 44, and that was only after he had judged the morale of his men to be at a dangerously low ebb - a state of affairs calling for an immediate act of typical selflessness.

Despite what the film would have us imagine, male striptease is comparatively rare in post-war Britain. No doubt some of my more pedantic readers are already busily penning me missives pointing out that for the past 50- odd years on the third Tuesday of every March the House of Commons has fielded a five-man All-Party Striptease Team against the House of Lords - a championship in which, I regret to say, they have always been defeated since they lost Norman St John Stevas to the Upper House.

I would agree that one should not discount such prominent strippers from any survey. It seems to me unarguable that in the post-war years My Lords Boothby and Goodman did more than anyone else to advance the standing of British striptease on the world stage. Boothby, in particular, was such a keen ambassador for striptease that he never travelled anywhere without his embossed House of Lords posing-pouch. But neither should one forget the immense contribution of the Lower House in this matter: though I never personally witnessed my old friend and quaffing partner Cecil Parkinson performing his act during the Thatcher Years, I am told it was quite stupendous: to the up-to-the-minute beat of a medley from the "pop" group "Abba", he would remove his one-piece track-suit, his Gieves and Hawkes neck-tie, his gold cufflinks, his stripey shirt, his casual slacks, his shoes, his garters, his socks, and, last but not least, his pin-striped underpants, before an appreciative audience (strictly invitation only) composed mainly of senior Captains of Industry, before introducing the main star of the evening, Margaret Thatcher, who would then win hearts by listing the exciting pit-closures and rationalisation schemes she had planned for the months ahead.

Stirring stuff indeed. Nor should one neglect to mention the many male striptease groups and factions that sprang up in the flourishing literary communities of the pre-war years. I well remember the late C P Snow describing with much gusto the tremendous impact that the late Harold Acton's all- male dance troupe had on Oxbridge society, and all to the slightly off- beat rhythms of Dame Edith Sitwell as she recited, somewhat haphazardly, from the clothbound edition of her Collected Verse.

But we must face up to the fact that British male striptease is still in its infancy. By and large, we are a nation which prefers to remain fully clothed at all times. It was not until as recently as 1966 that members of the British Olympic Male Swimming Team were allowed to remove their jackets in order to swim: the trunks-only ruling was not introduced until 1973.

Similarly, right up to 1974 all new-born male babies in the Greater London area were required to don shirts and smart casual trousers or slacks within 15 minutes of birth, or face prosecution and possible imprisonment under the Indecent Exposure Act.

On a more personal level it was not until the Spring of 69 that I took my first bath without vest and underpants. I suppose it was the so-called "Summer of Love" that forced my hand. The effect was liberating if a little unnerving, and I have only once repeated the experiment, as a house-guest of Lord Lambton in his otherwise delightful villa in Tuscany. But such occasional nudity is a far cry from what is being offered us by the makers of The Full Monty. Speaking personally, I walked out in protest before the end - or certainly would have done, had I found time to put my clothes back on.

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