Some time last year I was reading Kleinzeit, a surreal metaphysical novel by Russell Hoban. At some point the character is taking the Underground across London:
On a film poster a famous prime minister, shown as a youthful army officer, pistol in hand, glared about him, said in handwriting, I must kill someone, even British workers will do. KILL WOG SHIT, answered the wall.
The novel was written in 1974. Thinking back, I could vaguely remember that yes, racism like that used to be a thing. Hence “Til Death Do Us Part”, remade in the US as “All In The Family”.
Recently I tracked down a copy of a fairly obscure UK TV show called “End of Part One”. It was written by Andrew Marshall and David Renwick, and I’d seen one episode by chance when it first aired, wanted to see the rest, and never gotten the chance. If you don’t know the names of the writers, well, they went on to write “Whoops, Apocalypse” and “Hot Metal”, and Renwick went on to write “One Foot In The Grave” and “Jonathan Creek”.
“End of Part One” is a first TV effort from writers who got a lot better, but definitely has some surreal inspired moments, comparable to Monty Python and Spike Milligan. However, episode 1 starts off with a scathing parody of the 1977 TV sitcom “Mind Your Language”. For those lucky enough to be unfamiliar with that show, it basically collected together a set of ethnic stereotype characters on the pretext that they were learning English at an adult education college, and then recycled sanitized racist jokes.
By 1982, the fact that the UK police were still often racist was used for a joke: a police officer wearing sunglasses apparently thinks everyone is dark skinned and proceeds to use slurs against Neil, Mike, Vyvyan and Rik. (I didn’t say it was a good joke, and it got cut from reruns.)
In 1986, ITV made an unwise attempt to revive “Mind Your Language”, and it bombed. So it seems to me that public racism pretty much became unacceptable in the UK some time during the early 1980s.
Except now we know it never really went away, it just hid and festered. Brexit has brought it all roaring back. Wander around Twitter for a while and you’ll find a thread that looks like it was delivered through a time warp from a National Front rally in 1974.
I’ve realized that’s what really bothers me about Brexit. It’s not that I have any great emotional connection to the European Union, and I agree that it’s deeply flawed in many ways. If the majority of people want out, that’s fine. What disgusts me, though, is what Brexit has done to England.