Why the outrage about Paul Hollywood dressing up in a Nazi uniform?

We should be worried about the genuinely fascist ideology of the alt-right, not a pie-maker who once went to a party as a TV Nazi caricature

Iit seems absurd that a misjudged fancy dress effort well over a decade ago should be used to bash a TV baker over the head now
Iit seems absurd that a misjudged fancy dress effort well over a decade ago should be used to bash a TV baker over the head now

Paul Hollywood in a Nazi uniform is presumably a tabloid editor’s dream. “Talk about a show-stopper!”

For Hollywood, this weekend must have been something of a nightmare. One day he’s carelessly examining the crispness of flaky pastry in a big tent; the next he’s having to explain why he went to a party with a swastika on his arm. What would Mary Berry make of it all?

Naturally the king of the Bake Off offered an apology for the offence he had caused – or at least the offence the picture caused, since it is unclear whether anyone who saw him on his way to a fancy dress do 14 years ago is still feeling distressed about it now.

Sure enough, picking out the Nazi garb at the costume shop is probably not the brightest idea in any circumstances. As tips for life go surely one of the more obvious is that when you get invited to an ’Allo ’Allo party, go as a dopey British airman or a French waitress – or simply explain that you’re busy washing your hair.

Candice Brown praises 'incredible' Great British Bake Off series

All that said, I can’t help but feel that the “outrage” at Hollywood’s misdemeanour is not only excessive but largely misplaced.

Most obviously, it seems absurd that a misjudged fancy dress effort well over a decade ago should be used to bash a TV baker over the head now. The fact that Hollywood was not famous then and is very famous now ought really to be neither here nor there.

But there is also something more fundamental at play in all this. Of course, it is vital that we never underplay the horrors which were perpetrated by the Nazis: the hyper-aggressive militarism which led to the Second World War; the Holocaust in which six million European Jews were murdered. Nevertheless, there is a strong tradition in Britain of holding up Nazis as figures to be mocked too. That, in its own way, has been as important as remembering the gruesome details of Hitler’s regime and the war.

The ability to pillory the Third Reich is plainly evident in Britain’s post-war popular culture, including the very TV show which was apparently the inspiration for the party Hollywood was attending when he was snapped. It comes across too in Dad’s Army and many others.

Yes, these programmes were, in part, attempts to make sense through comedy of horrors through which Britons had lived. But they also played to a long-standing national lampooning of right-wing extremists and their paraphernalia.

During World War II there were the obvious jokes about Hitler and his chums. But even before then, the failure of Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts to make in Britain the kind of breakthrough which the Nazis had secured in Germany was significant in part because the uniforms, the salutes, the oratory all seemed as silly as they did sinister.

That Mosley was the inspiration for one of PG Woodhouse’s most absurd characters, Roderick Spode – who first appeared in 1938’s Code of the Woosters – further illustrates how men of his ilk were objects of humorous derision.

What’s more, to exert energy feeling offended by Hollywood’s past misjudgment misses the reality of right-wing extremism as it actually exists today. Real neo-Nazis don’t laugh at Third Reich regalia; they venerate it. They do not, I would imagine, laugh along with ’Allo ’Allo because it helps them deal with a war they remember; but rather dismiss it as an affront to a grim regime, and a dark period, they do not recall.

In this country, a third of the referrals to the Government’s anti-terrorism Prevent scheme related to right-wing extremists in 2016/17. The proportion is growing. Antisemitism too is on the rise among white nationalists, fuelled by no-holds-barred social media interactions. As Nicholas O’Shaughnessy wrote for The Independent this weekend, hatred towards American and European liberalism has pushed increasing numbers to the margins, where they find solace in abusing any who do not agree with their vicious world-view.

These are the people who we should feel concerned about, not a pie-maker who once went to a party as a TV Nazi caricature. They are also people whose pretensions we should hold under the microscope of mockery, lest they begin to believe that Nazi salutes and silly walks are anything to be proud of.

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