Category Archive 'George McDonald Fraser'

05 Jan 2008

George McDonald Fraser’s Political Testament

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The Daily Mail published some valedictory political remarks, excerpted from George McDonald Fraser’s memoir and testament The Light’s On At Signpost.

When 30 years ago I resurrected Flashman, the bully in Thomas Hughes’s Victorian novel Tom Brown’s Schooldays, political correctness hadn’t been heard of, and no exception was taken to my adopted hero’s character, behaviour, attitude to women and subject races (indeed, any races, including his own) and general awfulness.

On the contrary, it soon became evident that these were his main attractions. He was politically incorrect with a vengeance.

Through the Seventies and Eighties I led him on his disgraceful way, toadying, lying, cheating, running away, treating women as chattels, abusing inferiors of all colours, with only one redeeming virtue – the unsparing honesty with which he admitted to his faults, and even gloried in them.

And no one minded, or if they did, they didn’t tell me. In all the many thousands of readers’ letters I received, not one objected.

In the Nineties, a change began to take place. Reviewers and interviewers started describing Flashman (and me) as politically incorrect, which we are, though by no means in the same way. …

Political correctness is about denial, usually in the weasel circumlocutory jargon which distorts and evades and seldom stands up to honest analysis.

It comes in many guises, some of them so effective that the PC can be difficult to detect. The silly euphemisms, apparently harmless, but forever dripping to wear away common sense – the naivete of the phrase “a caring force for the future” on Remembrance poppy trays, which suggests that the army is some kind of peace corps, when in fact its true function is killing.

The continual attempt to soften and sanitise the harsh realities of life in the name of liberalism, in an effort to suppress truths unwelcome to the PC mind; the social engineering which plays down Christianity, demanding equal status for alien religions.

The selective distortions of history, so beloved by New Labour, denigrating Britain’s past with such propaganda as hopelessly unbalanced accounts of the slave trade, laying all the blame on the white races, but carefully censoring the truth that not a slave could have come out of Africa without the active assistance of black slavers, and that the trade was only finally suppressed by the Royal Navy virtually single-handed.

In schools, the waging of war against examinations as “elitist” exercises which will undermine the confidence of those who fail – what an intelligent way to prepare children for real life in which competition and failure are inevitable, since both are what life, if not liberal lunacy, is about.

PC also demands that “stress”, which used to be coped with by less sensitive generations, should now be compensated by huge cash payments lavished on griping incompetents who can’t do their jobs, and on policemen and firemen “traumatised” by the normal hazards of work which their predecessors took for granted.

Furthermore, it makes grieving part of the national culture, as it was on such a nauseating scale when large areas were carpeted in rotting vegetation in “mourning” for the Princess of Wales; and it insists that anyone suffering ordinary hardship should be regarded as a “victim” – and, of course, be paid for it.

That PC should have become acceptable in Britain is a glaring symptom of the country’s decline.

No generation has seen their country so altered, so turned upside down, as children like me born in the 20 years between the two world wars. In our adult lives Britain’s entire national spirit, its philosophy, values and standards, have changed beyond belief.

Probably no country on earth has experienced such a revolution in thought and outlook and behaviour in so short a space. …

My generation has seen the decay of ordinary morality, standards of decency, sportsmanship, politeness, respect for the law, family values, politics and education and religion, the very character of the British.

Oh how Blimpish this must sound to modern ears, how out of date, how blind to “the need for change and the novelty of a new age”. But
don’t worry about me. It’s the present generation with their permissive society, their anything-goes philosophy, and their generally laid-back, inyerface attitude I feel sorry for.

They regard themselves as a completely liberated society when in fact they are less free than any generation since the Middle Ages.

Indeed, there may never have been such an enslaved generation, in thrall to hang-ups, taboos, restrictions and oppressions unknown to their ancestors (to say nothing of being neck-deep in debt, thanks to a moneylender’s economy).

We were freer by far 50 years ago – yes, even with conscription, censorship, direction of labour, rationing, and shortages of everything that nowadays is regarded as essential to enjoyment.

We still had liberty beyond modern understanding because we had other freedoms, the really important ones, that are denied to the youth of today.

We could say what we liked; they can’t. We were not subject to the aggressive pressure of specialinterest minority groups; they are. We had no worries about race or sexual orientation; they have. We could, and did, differ from fashionable opinion with impunity, and would have laughed PC to scorn, had our society been weak and stupid enough to let it exist.

We had available to us an education system, public and private, that was the envy of the world. We had little reason to fear being mugged or raped (killed in war, maybe, but that was an acceptable hazard).

Our children could play in street and country in safety. We had few problems with bullies because society knew how to deal with bullying and was not afraid to punish it in ways that would send today’s progressives into hysterics.

We did not know the stifling tyranny of a liberal establishment, determined to impose its views, and beginning to resemble George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth.

Above all, we knew who we were and we lived in the knowledge that certain values and standards held true, and that our country, with all its faults and need for reforms, was sound at heart.

Not any more. I find it difficult to identify a time when the country was as badly governed as it has been in the past 50 years.

We have had the two worst Prime Ministers in our history – Edward Heath (who dragooned us into the Common Market) and Tony Blair. The harm these two have done to Britain is incalculable and almost certainly irreparable.

Hat tip to Walter Olson.

04 Jan 2008

George McDonald Fraser, OBE (1925-2008)

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George McDonald Fraser, author of the Flashman novels, a series of comic historical novels typically revolving around one of the best-known military disasters of the Victorian era and featuring as their hero a later-in-life version of the cad and bully Flashman from Tom Brown’s Schooldays, has died at age 82 of cancer.

Fraser had resided on Man as a political (and tax) exile from socialist Britain for many years.

He served during WWII in the Border Regiment and, after being commissioned an officer, in the Gordon Highlanders. Upon leaving the Army, he worked as a journalist for the Glasgow Herald. In 1969, he published the first of the Flashman novels which soon became a lucrative success.

As the London Times observes:

He had hit on a deceptively simple idea that proved to be a bestselling formula at the end of the Swinging Sixties. The public still wanted to sit down with a good rip-roaring yarn — but did not want heroes. So why not make the central character a cad? A cad the reading public already knew about — Harry Flashman, the bounder of Tom Brown’s Schooldays?

What happened to Flashman after the good Doctor Arnold expelled him from Rugby? Fraser decided that he must have gone into the Army. Bully, liar and coward he may still have been, but the Victorian military authorities did not mind. Or perhaps they were simply too stupid to notice, as he whored and cheated his way around the British Empire. The resulting stories became one of the great tongue-in-cheek achievements of popular fiction.

The standing joke between Fraser and his readers was that these were genuine memoirs: they had been discovered, “wrapped in oilskin” and stuffed into a tea chest, during a house sale at Ashby, Leicestershire, in 1965. They described how, after a long, eventful life, loved by the ladies and lauded by the Establishment — Flashman was a brigadier-general, a VC, a Knight of the Bath, a Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur and, amusingly, holder of the San Serafino Order of Purity and Truth — the old scoundrel mused in old age about how he had got away with it: “The ideal time to be a hero,” he wrote, “is when the battle is over and the other fellows are dead, God rest ’em, and you take the credit.”

It was all rollicking nonsense; but it had a sterling quality that went to the heart of many sophisticated readers who like to relax with a rubbishy book provided it is well written rubbish.

The Guardian identifies another basis of the series’ success.

Fraser was intending amusing travesty, but, underneath it all, the author really believed in Britishness. When the chips are down (when sepoys, for example, are murdering women and children in the Indian Mutiny) Flashman is a gallant and decent fellow (and no racist). Flashy, not unflashy Tom, embodies what made the empire work.

The Flashman novels spoke eloquently to the British reader. They articulated that mixture of cynicism, shame, and pride that contemporary Britons felt about Victorian values and Great Britain.

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