Magazine article The Spectator

Let's Not Get Too Worked Up If Guy Gibson's Dog Ends Up with a PC Name

Magazine article The Spectator

Let's Not Get Too Worked Up If Guy Gibson's Dog Ends Up with a PC Name

Article excerpt

This week's vexed columnar question: should Guy Gibson's dog still be called Nigger in The Dam Busters remake? Some of you no doubt think you know already what my line will be. And it's true that as a second world war enthusiast of the retired-blustering-colonel persuasion, I am indeed the sort of fellow who spits in his gin when filmmakers take liberties with the period.

When Steven Spielberg made out in Saving Private Ryan that the Americans won D-Day on their own, that was annoying. When the film U-571 told us that it was a US navy crew that first captured a German naval Enigma machine - when in fact it was British personnel from HMS Bulldog - that was more irksome still. At least Spielberg had the reasonable excuse that the Omaha landings were a largely American affair. But the U-571 plotline was such a blatant distortion that its US screenwriter later felt compelled to apologise for his 'mercenary decision. . . to create this parallel history in order to drive the movie for an American audience'.

So why, given my general sticklerishness, have I not yet gathered a few like-minded chums and started protests outside David Frost's and Stephen Fry's houses with placards saying 'Hands off our Nigger!', 'Guy Gibson wasn't racist!', 'It was acceptable in the Forties, so what's your problem?' or 'If it's good enough for Snoop Dogg, it's good enough for a wartime flying hero!'?

Before I go on let me give you some background. David Frost has bought the screen rights to The Dam Busters, Stephen Fry is writing the screenplay, it's being produced by Peter Jackson (director of the stupendous Lord of the Rings trilogy) and is due out sometime in 2011. Their biggest headache so far has been what to call Guy Gibson's dog.

In the 1954 black-and-white original, the dog is mentioned by his proper name 12 times.

He plays quite a key role, too. Though Nigger doesn't actually invent the bouncing bomb himself - that was done by some lesser player called Barnes Wallis - he does get run over by a car at a very moving point in the action, perhaps in some way prefiguring the subsequent heroic death of his loving master.

Unfortunately, since then times have changed. If you believe my dear but tragically PC chum David Aaronovitch, Nigger's name now gives 'huge and unnecessary offence to millions of fellow citizens'. I think he may be exaggerating here. But it doesn't half put the channels in a tizzy every time they put the film on. Sometimes they bleep out Nigger's name, sometimes they overdub it, sometimes they leave it in. And the sad result of this is that The Dam Busters has virtually ceased to be a film celebrating British pluck, stirring martial theme music, bouncing bombs and Lancasters, and has instead become the one in which, tee hee, the main guy has a snort, titter, arf arf pet with a so unPC name.

This, I worry slightly, is the risk the remake runs too. There's talk of calling the dog Nidge or Nigsy (Blood, Bro, Homes, Yomaniggah, Ho and Bitch all having been ruled out by Fry as inappropriate to the period) and while I can see that this is annoying and wrong in so many ways, I can also see why the compromise might be necessary. I mean, if you're going to spend upwards of £21 million on a blockbuster movie, you don't really want all your fantastic recreations of bursting Ruhr dams and tense Lancaster cockpits being overshadowed by some marginal scene where Gibson summons his dog by name to come and eat his dindins.

Anyway, the reason I mention all this is that I've been going through similar dilemmas. …

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