LIFE in the civilized world.|
(The family are at tea.)
‘Is there an alert on?’
‘No, it’s all clear.’
‘I thought there was an alert on.’
‘There’s another of those things coming!’
‘It’s all right, it’s miles away.’
‘Look out, here it comes! Under the table, quick!’
‘It’s all right, it’s getting fainter.’
‘It’s coming back!’
‘They seem to kind of circle round and come back again. They’ve got something on their tails that makes them do it. Like a torpedo.’
‘Christ! It’s bang overhead!’
‘Now get right underneath. Keep your head well down. What a mercy baby isn’t here!’
‘Look at the cat! He’s frightened too.’
‘Of course animals know. They can feel the vibrations.’
‘It’s all right, I told you it was miles away.’
It is not only in war-time that the British press observes this voluntary reticence. One of the most extraordinary things about England is that there is almost no official censorship, and yet nothing that is actually offensive to the governing class gets into print, at least in any place where large numbers of people are likely to read it. If it is ‘not done’ to mention something or other, it just doesn’t get mentioned. The position is summed up in the lines by (I think) Hilaire Belloc:
You cannot hope to bribe or twist|
Thank God! the British journalist.
But seeing what the man will do
unbribed, there’s no occasion to.
No bribes, no threats, no penalties—just a nod and a wink and the thing is done. A well-known example was the business of the Abdication. Weeks before the scandal officially broke, tens or hundreds of thousands of people had heard all about Mrs Simpson, and yet not a word got into the press, not even into the Daily Worker, although the American and European papers were having the time of their lives with the story. Yet I believe there was no definite official ban: just an official ‘request’ and a general agreement that to break the news prematurely ‘would not do’. And I can think of other instances of good news stories failing to see the light although there would have been no penalty for printing them.
Nowadays this kind of veiled censorship even extends to books. The M.O.I. does not, of course, dictate a party line or issue an index expurgatorius. It merely ‘advises’. Publishers take manuscripts to the M.O.I. and the M.O.I. ‘suggests’ that this or that is undesirable, or premature, or ‘would serve no good purpose’. And though there is no definite prohibition, no clear statement that this or that must not be printed, official policy is never flouted. Circus dogs jump when the trainer cracks his whip, but the really well-trained dog is the one that turns his somersault when there is no whip. And that is the state we have reached in this country thanks to three hundred years of living together without a civil war.
A man walked four miles due south from his house and shot a bear. He then walked two miles due west, then walked another four miles due north and was back at his home again. What was the colour of the bear?
The interesting point is that—so far as my own observations go—men usually see the answer to this problem and women do not.