Wednesday, April 17, 2024
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Return of the Great British Baddy


DO YOU remember when every American film or TV show featured a British baddy?

If there was a dramatic conflict between good and bad, the best way to depict evil was via the character’s diction.

If he said ‘tomar-toe’ he’d be a real ‘schmo’.

I suspect we are about to re-assume World Baddy Status again. Why, though? What did we do to America? Do Americans secretly hate us?

To investigate I thought I’d check the meaning of ‘bellwether’ in a dictionary – and there was a picture of Prince Harry. Not in the bit about ‘an indicator of trends’ but alongside the derivation: ‘a castrated ram with a bell around its neck, used to track the movement of sheep’.

I can understand the actions of Prince Haw-Haw. There is clearly a market for this stuff – call it Meghanomics – and he’s on trend.

It’s disappointing because most mature adults would agree that it’s never a good idea to get involved in other people’s family matters. You’d expect more from dignitaries like Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. Especially since both have had their own family crises.

Does that mean everyone in the White House is against us?

That means the Washington Pose, CNN and MSBC and all the other woofers and tweeters will all be repeating these lines.

None of these self-appointed experts asked Meghan if she ever asked how her husband’s grandma was feeling, given the poor state of Prince Philip.

Harry was never asked why, having found privacy and a safe haven in the US, he needed to keep publicly goading the people who paid for his wedding. Not just his own family, but all of us. Harry ‘really came out of left field’, as they say in sports bars.

Is this all evidence that some Americans desperately want us to be the baddy again?

Why? I’m damned if I know. The good news is that this finger-pointing is seasonal and the cycles seem to get shorter. (Because of global warming, despite Brexit, Harry be praised!)

Public opinion did briefly turn our way before.

After September 11th, 2001, when real world events proved that Britain was a decent ally, the Americans seemed to like us.

Yes, in the decades leading up to that, all kinds of nastiness was projected on to us.

Why? What can we expect?

I’m not sure if this was led by supply from the studios or audience demand but the outcome was the same. For decades we were portrayed in American popular culture as the enemies of the free world.

As a result, many Americans believe many weird myths about the British. Some think we regularly put squirrel meat on pizza, others believe we exterminated Native Americans by giving them blankets infected with smallpox. (Never actually happened, according to this.)

On screen, every popular storyline seemed to be driven by a conflict between wholesome decent and beautiful Americans and a scheming, vindictive Brit whose eloquence is soon stripped away and his cowardice revealed.

Brits were not to be trusted on land, sea or outer space. As soon as you heard the accent, you knew the character was evil. While the set designer had a lot of work to do, for the script writer the words ‘British Accent’ did all the heavy lifting.

In the hijack movie Passenger 57, Elizabeth Hurley explains to an air hostess that she wants to lose her British accent as ‘it makes me sound cold and heartless’.

That, as they say in movies, was when I knew she was a terrorist.

In the box office smash Titanic the mockney-accented crew seem  deliberately to let the liner hit an iceberg.

Then, in another invented act of motiveless nastiness, they try to lock the passengers below deck as the ship goes down.

We were at our worst when threatening the American family unit in exile, as the character Zachary Smith proved in Lost in Space. This was the story of the decent and kind American family Robinson, who were lumbered with a classically trained ‘character actor’. You know the sort.

Every week he double-crossed them. There was an obvious lesson being pushed. You can imagine all the Americans at home screaming at the TV: ‘Don’t trust a guy with those vowels!’

Still, we should look at the positives. The US media might not actually hate us.

Demonisation is a backhanded compliment and the evil British accent is often used as shorthand for a character that is intelligent and fiendishly cunning.

Our standing in the world might even go up if they have a grudging respect for us.

If the British Baddy does come back, it will be great for our balance of trade.

There was never a shortage of British actors ready to portray their fellow citizens as utter monsters to a global audience. They always seemed to be Left-wing actors too, which was odd because you’d think the last place they’d want to earn a living was Hollywood.

Obviously, no media brand wants to upset China, the emperor in the room.

We aren’t in a gang any more, so we are the logical choice of scapegoat.

Move aside QAnon, there’s a new straw man in town!

What’s the worst that could happen? A mass exodus of Left-wing actors to Hollywood? At least we’ll be exporting something again. We should make Hugh Grant and Co a packed lunch for the journey: tea, crumpets and squirrel meat sandwiches.

Just don’t give them any blankets.

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Nick Booth
Nick Booth
Nick Booth is a freelance writer.

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