Blenheim Palace bedizened with Nazi Swastikas? File this in the overflowing catalogue of much ado about nothing.
On September 25th, several Churchill writers received an email: “Urgent Media Request—the Sin.” (A typo for the Sun newspaper, though ironically appropriate.)
“I’m a journalist with the Sun,” we were told by a member of their staff. “I’m working on a story in our paper tomorrow about a disgusting act which tarnishes Sir Winston Churchill’s memory.” He didn’t say what, but it was easy to guess.
The disgusting act, already blasted around via the Internet, was to drape Blenheim (“Churchill’s home” according to reports) with huge Nazi banners. This was for an episode for the fifth “Transformers” film, The Last Knight, opening next June.
Great huff and puff! Not only was Blenheim Churchill’s home, the Jerusalem Post informed its readers. Sir Winston himself “is buried on the grounds.” (Blenheim was never Churchill’s “home,” and he is buried in the nearby village of Bladon.)
None of us replied to this naked attempt to stir artificial uproar. A friend and colleague in London wrote: “I told the Sun when they called that I can manufacture synthetic outrage as much as the next man, but couldn’t on this occasion.”
Of course that did not stop the quality press from flogging newspapers over movieland’s affront to Churchill and Blenheim. The scene crawled with Nazi storm troopers, they reported. Why, there was even a representative German Jeep (Kübelwagen). The newspaper found two veterans to denounce the sacrilege. “I know its a film,” said a colonel who served in Afghanistan. “But it’s symbolically disrespectful to Churchill. He will be turning in his grave.” The grave in Bladon, I presume.
Some Churchill admirers joined the ruckus, saying it would mislead the young. Into what? Believing the Nazis won World War II? Even assuming the film identifies the building as Blenheim, the young are familiar with the Internet. Two or three clicks will inform them that the Germans, er, never got quite that far.
Remarkably, but perhaps typically, the Sun seems the only paper willing to publish photos of the offensive scene. It was in place only for a short time. It appears to have been shot in the dead of night. The banners were pulled down before the day trippers arrived. Blenheim is a popular venue, the ancestral home of the Dukes of Marlborough.
“Transformers” director Michael Bay defended the shoot, claiming Churchill would in fact be pleased with the plot of The Last Knight. “People have not been fortunate enough to read the script and they don’t know that Churchill in this movie is a big hero,” he told the BBC. “Churchill would be smiling. When you see the movie, you’ll understand.”
What is the problem with using Hitleriana as a prop in some fictional story? It’s been going on for years. Back in 1972, Norman Longmate displayed a Swastika flying over the Palace of Westminster on the jacket of his alternate history, If Britain Had Fallen. Nobody was even slightly outraged. Perhaps this latest kerfuffle is a product of our all-too-ready habit of taking “offense” at anything that might disturb 0.001% of the citizenry.
Sir Winston’s grandson, Sir Nicholas Soames, is always able to put nonsense in perspective. Speaking to the Guardian, he described the episode as “a completely manufactured row” and “absolutely the most dismal, idiotic story I’ve ever read….
“They do as all newspapers do,” Soames continued. “They go until they can find some wretched veteran who is prepared to say, ‘Winston would be turning into his grave.’ They’ve no idea what my grandfather would have thought!”
What Would Churchill Think?
I know what he would have thought! Churchill loved movies. He’d be fascinated, and would greet the fiction with a guffaw as he puffed on a big cigar in his easy chair at Chartwell.
I have no particular objection to the “offensive” photo. But I won’t add to its fifteen minutes of fame. So you’ll have to click on the Sun link to see it.
Unintentionally, perhaps, the Sun included a photo of Churchill giving his famous V-sign palm-in, not palm-out. In England, this means quite something other than “Victory.” Perhaps it is appropriate to the occasion.
•Coming up: another Swastika-bedraped British icon, in my review of Norman Longmate’s alternate history, If Britain Had Fallen.