THE funny thing about Hitler is… that he’s funny.
Don’t get me wrong. He was arguably the most perniciously evil man that ever lived and the architect of the wickedest political doctrine of all time. If we are totting up the body count of victims, Stalin nudges ahead of Hitler, perhaps, but the systematic, doctrinal nature of the Fuhrer’s exterminatory excesses means that of the two great monsters of the last Millennium, he comes out on top – or bottom, if you prefer.
But still, he’s funny. To laugh at, I mean. I am not suggesting that he himself had a redemptive sense of humour. He didn’t take a stand-up act around the beer halls of Munich before moving into right wing politics. When you see footage of crowds at Nuremberg listening to a guttural rant by the Fuhrer you don’t see or hear them chortling at any funny asides from the podium.
But still, Hitler achieves the weird double of being the most menacing man who ever lived and one of the most preposterous, for all the painfully obvious reasons, topped off by the bog brush moustache. No wonder he has always been a figure of fun as well as a figure of fear.
The Fuhrer was a gift to cartoonists in the 1930s and he made an occasional appearance in a “Dandy” comic strip entitled “Musso”, about the antics of a preposterous Fascist dictator. He was mercilessly sent up by Charlie Chaplin in “The Great Dictator”. He was punched on the nose by George Formby in a morale -boosting movie. The name of the popular wartime BBC radio comedy show, “ITMA”, standing for “It’s That Man Again”, was an oblique reference to Hitler.
After the war, the jokes kept coming. I remember Spike Milligan’s TV shows in the 1970s and 80s often had half the cast dressing up as the Fuhrer. And the bog brush moustache, goose stepping routine was a staple of Freddie Starr’s act. And “Allo Allo”, of course, even contrived to make Hitler’s SS into comic characters.
So what is going on here? How, in all conscience, can we find this vile human being a figure of fun?
Well, if you turn to Chapter One , Page One, of “Elementary Psychology for Beginners” you will find that one of the tactics adopted by human beings to deal with their worst fears – alongside hiding behind the sofa or scarpering in the opposite direction – is to try and make fun of them.
Laughter is therefore a symptom of fear. Therefore, one presumes, Hitler and his image advisors would probably have been delighted by all the mockery and caricature. He perhaps received weekly dossiers from Goebbels…
“Excellent news, Mein Fuhrer! You have been savagely caricatured in nine British newspapers, a new radio series called ‘Alf a Mo’ It’s Adolf!’ has begun on the BBC radio and you are represented as a complete buffoon in a new film comedy starring Chesney ‘Cheerful Chappie’ Chapman.”
“Gut! This means that the accursed Englanders greatly fear me! Soon they will crumble before the might of the Reich!”
Well, that might seem to be the most plausible scenario. But some news the other day suggests that Chapter One, Page One of “Elementary Psychology for Beginners” might need to be rewritten. Papers have come to light which show that the Nazi regime went to enormous lengths to try and suppress a dog in Finland that specialised in Hitler impressions.
Some 30 files of letters, memos and telegrams show just how seriously the Third Reich reacted to antics of Jackie, owned by Finnish businessman Tor Borg, whose wife Josefine, a German anti-Nazi , dubbed the dog Hitler because of the manner it raised its paw high in the air, as if emulating the German ‘Heil Hitler!’ salute. Borg was even summoned to the German embassy in Helsinki and questioned about his dog’s antics.
Torg denied that his dog was in any way disrespectful to Hitler but he was not believed and reports on the incident flew around the corridors of Hitler’s Chancellery. There was an attempt to undermine Torg’s business and bring him to trial.
Eventually, the matter was dropped. But it does seem to indicate that all the satire of Hitler and the Nazis might have struck home after all. So maybe there were attempts to bomb the BBC studios where” ITMA” was being broadcast. And George Formby was probably on a secret hitlist.
And, if the Nazis had managed to invade Britain, what would have been the terrible fate of Toby O’Brien? He was a journalist turned propagandist whose biggest coup was to write the words of the most widely sung song of the war.
To the tune of “Colonel Bogey”, it begins with the immortal words:
“Hitler has only got one BLEEP
Goering has one but very small.
Himmler’s so very similar
And Goebbels has no BLEEPS at all.
Sorry about the censorship, but you get the drift. And you can bet that the Reich Chancellery did as well.