Today, the Daily Mail brings deeply unsettling news for its devoted readers: starting next week, the paper will serialise the supposedly Very Wonderful memoirs of their talentless and unfunny churnalist Richard Littlejohn. The modestly-titled “Littlejohn’s Lost World” tells of a time when everyone worked hard and wanted to get on, there were none of those immigrants, and no elf’n’safety.
History, guv? Make it up, nobody'll know, innit?!?
Ah, how wonderful that must have been – not. Fortunately, being of A Certain Age, I am able to subject Dicky Windbag’s hot air to the harsh reality of factual analysis. So let’s start at the very beginning – a very good place to start. “The Mail's incomparable columnist, born before welfare dependence, immigration and elf'n'safety asks: 'What would my old Dad make of the country we've become?'” he asks.
Well, in Dick’s case, what he has become is a peddler of rank dishonesty: the Welfare State pre-dates his birth, as does significant immigration. Or did he miss events like the arrival at Tilbury of the Empire Windrush? He does get one thing right, though: rationing was still in force when he was born. But it ended before Winshton retired as PM and Anthony Eden won the 1955 General Election.
“In those days, most babies were born at home, not in hospital” he says, from his own particular Sample Of One. Well, Dicky Boy, my Sample Of One from later in the same year somewhere near Leeds says otherwise. “I was born into a lost world. It wasn’t just another century, it was another country”. Wrong. It was the same country as today, but we have in the meantime enjoyed something called progress.
What Littlejohn fails to tell readers about the wonderful fifties is that life expectancy was poor – heart disease killed many before they got the chance to retire, lung cancer and other respiratory ailments took more, and tuberculosis was rampant. He (and I) were the fortunate ones. And don’t get me started on the filthy air in cities and towns – and the illnesses that caused in its turn.
Dick tells that “no one suffered from now-fashionable food allergies”. Yes they did – only back then, they fell ill or just dropped dead. “Holidays meant a trip to Southend in a Ford Anglia” he says, which meant his family were not as ordinary as he would like to pretend: very few could afford a car. And where would you prefer to take a holiday – Essex or Andalucia? Seriously?
If I were given a choice of the 50s or the here and now, it would be a no-brainer. The world today has its faults, but has changed vastly – and for the better. This is my time, thanks. The 50s are mere memory. “Critics of my column in the Daily Mail probably won’t be surprised to discover that I’m descended from a family of London cabbies” says Dick. Meaning a bigoted and dishonest gobshite.
And an appallingly selective and unreliable witness to the past. One more for the bin.