Monday, 18 February 2013

Bob Astles, Idi Amin's henchman, has died


Bob Astles has diedAnother recollection of that low dishonest decade, the 1970s, unheroic and tawdry as it was. I suppose Astles was the real Flashman and someone should write a good novel about him. I remember him well. A fascinating account of his life is here.

What a disaster independence was for Africans. It was the right thing for the colonial powers to leave, from a realpolitik point of view. They were therefore saved the kind of wars the French fought in Vietnam. The Portuguese were the only colonial power who fought (gallantly against the Communists) rather than leave. But ask the people of Congo, Uganda and Angola etc whether they wished the whites had stayed another thirty years or more. I see the British left-wing socialist politician Chris Mullins was arguing last week that France should go back into Mali and run the place for years to come. I heard a Congolese historian saying that everything in the Congo had been better under Belgian rule than now - and the Belgians were the worst colonists of all, with the probable exception of the Germans.

It seems odd, now, that somehow Mike Yarwood, the impersonator, and Alan Coren in Punch turned Amin into a joke, when he was anything but funny. But I suppose there was something blackly humorous about Amin, or to give him his full title, His Excellency, President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Seas and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular. 

Why are evil dictators from Caligula to Gaddafi so often ridiculous? Is it because they have no sense of humour where they are concerned (although a horribly cruel sense of humour when it comes to killing people)? In Amin's case he may have used his reputation as a buffoon to palliate his crimes in foreign eyes. He is thought to have killed at least one hundred thousand people. Some have suggested five times this number died at his hands.

Alan Coren made a cottage industry out of his weekly bulletins from Field Marshal Amin, which I found tiresome, but many people laughed at. If people did laugh at Punch. I read it only in dentist's waiting rooms and so, famously, did many of its readers, but I suppose dentists alone could not have kept it in the black. I usually found Alan Coren very funny but not as Amin. Alan Coren's joke was always the Field Marshall's pidgin English. This is a sample of the style: 
Where Is You, Adolf Hitler, Now We Needin' You?

ALL RIGHT, we makin a ricket on de Peace Corpse lot. Turn out dey ain't de advance guard o' de 17th/21st Nigerian Light Horse wid big eyes on de radio station an' de late Indian supermarkets, an' dey ain't Israelis, neither. So what? Don't mean they ain't subversives, comin' down here an' interferin' wid de smoothe runnin' o' de Dark Continent, an' it don't mean dey ain't Jews, neither, can't let a load o' Jews slip through de net jus' on account o' they got de American passport, you think de famous Adolf Hitler wot already bin pubberlickly admired by me woulda got to de top if he botherin' about readin' every bit o' paper wot landin' on his desk? Sit aroun' readin' six million passports, before you know it de oven gone out, de Second Front openin' an' you never gittin' around to de final solution. All de top SS men, you spendin' a fortune on de trainin' an' de flash uniforms etcetera, all standin' aroun' Auschwitz an' Dachau an' so on lookin' at de watches an' wonderin' why no-one turnin' up, ain't no way to run a progressive country. (Punch July 18, 1973)

I remember when the obituaries were full of heroes of the Great War. Now famous people from the 1970s are being culled by the Grim Reaper. For a much more benign impression of the 1970s, click here for Jamie Delingpole on the much more benign Richard Briers, who has also just died. 

1 comment:

  1. No wonder going to the dentist can be so painful.