October 7th, 2004

Mad Dogs And Englishmen

When I was at prep school in the early 60s we used to be treated to film shows once or twice a term. The films were mostly produced by big corporations like Shell and they were about how big corporations were improving the lives of colourful but backward native peoples by establishing rubber plantations and building dams and oil rigs. The abiding image is of cheerful chaps in dhotis shinning up palm trees.

The headmaster and deputy head were both old Indian Army men; Col Gracey, Col Easton (good kind men- I don’t mean to mock.) So I suppose the object was to get us to consider taking up the White Man’s Burden as a career.

This was before colour TV. The films were mostly in colour. Therefore they were wonderful. QED.

I was reminded of this formative experience while watching Michael Palin’s new series about the Himalaya. It is instructive to note that, in spite of the best efforts of Shell et al, the world is still full of colourful, native peoples. You should see the huge moustaches they wear in the tribal lands of Pakistan! Tee-hee! And they race bulls because they haven’t invented horses yet.

How good of Michael to go out in the midday sun to film these simple people for our entertainment and edification!