There are 6m postcodes in London, what's happening in yours?
Published September 11th 2013
Have you ypered properly?
Photograph: Helen Sloan/BBC/Trademark Production/HELEN SLOAN
Do any of you think reality has eclipsed satire? Tell this to the people who wrote and edited the Wipers Times, who came up with something "A bit like punch, but with jokes." Ian Hislop draws upon an era when satire was a commentary on reality, as opposed to what some people think we have now.
The content, dramatised in sketch form is hilarious, showing the futility of the war with deadly accuracy and I couldn't help but laugh at them. Hislop's comic eye really comes into its own here. My favourite being the temperance meeting where you become an alcoholic, especially being a teetotaller myself for the past three years. Being shot in stark monochrome, it gives it an almost Brechtian alienation effect that shows the absurdity of the war and how people on the front line reacted to it, whether it was jokes or alcoholism. In the process, It evoked "Oh, What A Lovely War", which used a similar device to the same effect. It detached the viewer to show both the artifice of the situation and the attitudes of the powers that be who perpetuated it.
One attitude I saw was pomposity and another was arrogance. With regard to pomposity, I couldn't help but get the image of Stephen Fry's General Melchett out of my head when Michael Palin's general's underling call it seditious. Perhaps its his moustache and pompous demeanour that makes me think of Blackadder's General Melchett, but it seemed that the mad general has some common sense in letting the Wipers Times keep going. Perhaps it shows that a free press is worth fighting for, which he implicitly understands. On the other hand, the arrogance in the General's underling is the very attitude that perpetuated the war, but it almost borders on ignorant of the need for both a free press and humour. Indeed, the Wipers Times punctured the overbloated gasbag of pomposity with the pin of satire and showing what values are worth fighting for.
Since you can't have a free press without a printing press itself, you even get to learn about the origins of phrases from the print trade that entered everyday speech, such as "minding your P's & Q's" or "coming a Cropper", which shows Hislop has researched his subject matter exquisitely, even showing the pathos and humanity of the people in the voice overs of poetry and a scene where they're burying a comrade in arms when a shelling takes place. Respect for the dead never stops, even when killing takes place during the battle of The Somme. Even Hislop's choice of language has that multi-layered quality, evident in the fact that many men came a cropper in the trenches. It intimates the prevalent sense of death that is behind the comic front, which cannot be spoken about directly because it was too terrifying or defeatist.
My only gripe is that it would have been better screened on Remembrance Sunday or Armistice Day itself, as it is a fitting tribute to both the fallen and as testimony to the people who put out a publication under fire and their creativity amidst destruction and resilience.
Penning this on the anniversary of 9/11, I think it seems that reality really has eclipsed satire to the extent that what security measures proposed now would have been laughed at twenty years ago. Perhaps it really shows that enlightenment ideals are still relevant than ever, which is what the Wipers Times is proof of. You can even see it at the BBC website, which is the values of the Wipers Times writ large. That said, it's sad they never got the recognition the founders and editors richly deserve for their services to comedy and free speech.