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ABOUT COLONEL BLIMP

In the mid-1930s, Britain’s most celebrated editoonist, David Low, created this fatuous character in order to typify “the current disposition to mixed-up thinking, to having it both ways, to dogmatic doubleness, to paradox and plain self-contradiction. This sort of thing: ‘We need better relations between Capital and Labor. If the trades unions won’t accept our terms, crush ’em.’ Or, ‘What the country wants is more economy. Our fellows should fight Russia and China and damn the expense.’” Low had been allotted an entire page in the Saturday issue of his newspaper, and he created Colonel Blimp as a single-panel cartoon to help fill up the space. Recalling the final moments in the gestation of the character in his autobiography (entitled, with admirable exactitude, Low’s Autobiography), Low said he was in a Turkish bath, “ruminating on a name” for his character, when he happened to overhear a couple “pink sweating chaps of military bearing” talking nearby. “They were telling one another that what Japan did in the Pacific was no business of Britain.” At the same time, Low was thinking about an article in the newspaper that morning in which “some colonel or other had written to protest against the mechanization of cavalry, insisting that even if horses had to go, the uniform and trappings must remain inviolate and troops must continue to wear their spurs in the tanks.” Low_5This was just the thing, Low realized: his character should be a military man, puffed up with his own sense of importance and certitude. And so the Colonel Blimp series began: Low put himself into the picture, so Colonel Blimp would have someone to pontificate to, and the cartoonist put them both in a Turkish bath “performing our ablutions or exercising, he uttering to me a blatantly self-contradictory aphorism.” The series continued every Saturday until the end of the decade, when, due to the onset of war in 1939-40, a shortage of newsprint eliminated Low’s page. Thereafter, he concentrated on his purely political cartoon, but Colonel Blimp showed up occasionally, and the character eventually starred in a movie, “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.” Some who saw the movie were scandalized, outraged because of “their simple belief that, in political or social fantasy, hateful ideas must always be represented by hateful characters,” so they thought Colonel Blimp was supposed to be hateful — even though he wasn’t. When the film arrived in the U.S., the character had assumed another dimension altogether in publicity materials. Apparently misapprehending the type that Blimp represented, American flacks depicted him as a near cousin of Esky, the leering roue mascot of Esquire magazine, bug-eyed in admiration of whatever female leg came into his field of vision. After World War II, Low retired Colonel Blimp: he had become too closely identified with the War to fit into the new age.

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