Colonel Blimp was a character created by cartoonist David Low for the London Evening Standard in 1934. Blimp was pompous, opinionated, bad-tempered and fat with a walrus-like moustache. It is said that David Low’s cartoon figure was inspired by a conversation between two retired army officers overheard in a Turkish bath, where one officer asserted to the other that cavalry officers should be allowed to wear spurs in tanks.
Low’s character’s name came from the nickname for barrage balloons. Blimp is an inflated figure of absurdity and self-importance, he is reactionary and self-contradictory.
During the Second World War, “Colonel Blimp” became the descriptive term for a person filled with their own importance, someone who regarded their own opinion as normative, someone who disregarded opinions at variance with their own.
As the end of the Second World War approached, there was a moment of hiatus. The war in Europe had been concluded, but there was a desire on the part of some to control the news, to present themselves as those who would determine when the historical moment would occur.
Anthony Horovitz captures a sense of the moment in an episode of Foyle’s War set in May 1945. Detective Chief Superintendent meets Miss Pierce, a former head of the Special Operations Executive, who discloses to Foyle that news of an announcement is due:
We’re just waiting.
The end of the war?
I understand Churchill and Stalin are negotiating the exact moment to announce it. Meanwhile, I can reliably inform you that you can expect an announcement on the wireless this evening.
What, that it’s over?
No. The Ministry of Information is going to announce that there’ll be an announcement tomorrow.
In other words, the announcement of the announcement. Good to see the spirit of Colonel Blimp is still alive and well.
Horovitz set out to capture the mood of the moment seventy-years ago. A similar dialogue would capture the mood of the moment seventy-five years later.
Colonel Blimp would have been delighted at the opportunity to enjoy public attention through television broadcasts that did no more than to announce further broadcasts. Blimp had the capacity for self-contradictory statements, “Gad, Sir! Mr Lansbury is right. The League of Nations should insist on peace — except of course in the case of war.”
Blimp’s statement finds a parallel in statements that there will be a relaxation of the lockdown but there will not be a relaxation of the lockdown. The Foreign Secretary made an announcement about an announcement. The announcement is to be made by the Prime Minister. The announcement is not the announcement of the end of the lockdown, but an announcement that there will be further announcements.