Saturday 30 October 2010

Dennis Potter's 'Lipstick on Your Collar' - History Repeating Itself

I am no Anglophile.  Malay movies from the 1950s and 1960s,  Malay popular music from the 1940s onwards,  Lagu Melayu  Asli and Hindi  movies and songs  are in my blood and in my bones.

Growing up in Singapore in the 1950s and 1960s was a very rich and multi-faceted experience.  The popular songs before and after The Beatles were shared by us all - Malays, Chinese, Indians, Eurasians and all the various shades and colours of people you can find in our Pasir Panjang  English School during the Colonial period.   Somehow, without any diktat from above, we accepted, acknowledged and respected our differences. As for our similarities - we were just schoolkids having to work hard to get a good education so that we can help our parents when we grow up.  And most of all we had fun doing all the silly and mischievous stuff that all kids do.

Some of our parents were poor, some were rich and some just plain ordinary like mine.  We could not see  many visible signs of  our parents' economic and social status.  We all  travelled by bus or walked to get to school.  There were no  Mercedes or Jaguars in the school carpark to pick up the rich brats.  There were  no talk or boastings in the classroom about  going on holiday to Europe or the U.S.A.

My sister would often visit her friend who  lived in a big house by the seaside and this girl was the daughter of the Biscuit Taukeh!  My friend Yap Siew Har lived in a huge mansion at the 5th milestone and in class she was just as ordinary and naughty like the rest of us.  She even told us that her father had two wives and we all thought nothing of it.

Jeevan threw a stone at my brother's forehead and as a result, Mus needed a couple of stitches.  I had to run home to inform my mother about  the trouble he had got himself  into. Jeevan's father was a Manager at the then Singapore Harbour Board but my parents were not bothered about confronting Jeevan's parents.  Kids will be kids.  Racist intent? Racism?  That was not in  our parents' vocabulary.

That's a long preamble before I begin this posting.

Living in England   from the mid-1980s had opened up my eyes to the reality of what Britain and the British  had done to my part of the world and how the powerful in the White Christian West have manipulated and subjugated the powerless - especially the colonisation of our minds.

But there were also parts that I admired and enjoyed.   There were the writers, the journalists and the playwrights. One  I really  appreciate is  the dramatist  Dennis Potter - especially his TV dramas like 'The Singing Detective'  (1986) and  'Lipstick on your Collar' (1993).
I know  I  have a penchant for attaching songs to complement the themes of my various postings.  This is certainly  due to Dennis Potter's influence because I  love his technique and  I love songs.

'Lipstick on your Collar', set in 1956 during the Suez Crisis,  tells the story of  a young man doing his National Service as an interpreter of Russian documents in the Intelligence Section of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  Today you would call him a spook - like those in MI5 and MI6.   As his job and his bureaucratic Civil Service Colleagues are so staid and boring  he decided to create fantasies about them in pop songs.

It's uncanny, almost prophetic because some of these scenes are applicable to the Invasion of Iraq by USA and UK in 2003 -  another war against another Arab nation.

N.B  Each video begins with the same 20 secs. introduction.

Blue Suede Shoes  is a scene in Parliament.  Just change Colonel Nasser to Saddam Hussein.
And substitute 'blue suede shoes' for dominance over oil in the Middle East.

'Don't be Cruel'  is such a lovely parody of office culture in a Government Ministry.

And this is the best of all.   It's all about toilet paper and Intelligence documents.  Just like the 45 minute threat and the secret dossier on Saddam's weapons of mass destruction  that Blair was plugging before pushing the button on the Invasion of Iraq aka  Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Well - people in a hurry may say - why rake up the past?  The War's over.  Saddam Hussein has been overthrown.  Iraqis now have democracy because they are  allowed to take part in elections.

If only Dennis Potter knew how his portrayal of British Intelligence in LOYC  is being given a re-run ten years later.

But then I live in the past.

And we are doomed to repeating the tragedies of past history.

But we do enjoy our present.


imsunnysideup said...

Reading the part on 'Growing up in Singapore'...certainly brings back those good old days. We were all ONE then, and I am still ONE in spirit with my friends ---be they Chinese, Indians, Sikhs or Eurasians. You are so right, the idea of a different race or religion was NEVER in our mind. We mixed around and there was REAL GENUINE camaraderie ---whatever colour or religion w come from.

How did we get to be where we are now ? To me doesn't seem to come as naturally as it did back then....this acceptance...

anak si-hamid said...

Indeed sunnysideup - 'how did we get to be where we are now'?

Ask all the language and racist chauvinists!!!!

Ask the two-bit half-educated , 'bodoh-sombong' flunkeys running the country, the schools and the universities.

50 years of independence has only bred the attitude of claiming rights without resposibility and accountability. There's the 'I'm alright Jack and to hell with the rest of you' syndrome.

What an utter shame.

All the more I think there was something special about Pasir Panjang and all of us, of all shapes and colours who thrived in it. I must get down to narrating it -somehow.

imsunnysideup said...

Having said that AsH, we mustn't forget our dear Abah. He was educated here in KL...was it St John's or Victoria ? But wherever it may be in KL...he was a universal man... yet with vision for his people and religion.
Still with all that ...the non Malays were his closest friends. Remember Ah Seng and the weekly week-end visit to his house on the pier off Pasir Panjang Road ? That provision shop towkay ? The straight-borne neighbour who were claser than to us than some of our relatives.. so maybe its not the place , but the era ?....I may be wrong though....just a thought...thats all

imsunnysideup said...

hahah---'strait' I mean