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Britain's Comedy Nazis Are Spoiling It for Everyone

But should we feel outraged or just pity them?

Nazi anthropologists will tell you that there are basically two types of Nazi. The ones that burn entire Polish villages alive inside their market halls. And Comedy Nazis. The Comedy Nazi is a more recent invention. One found chiefly in the shires of merrie olde Englande. Here, the Comedy Nazi spends his (it's always "his") days goose-stepping over-dramatically for his pals in his costume shop Wehrmacht togs, attending endless stag-dos to flick fourth-pint "Sieg heils!" at Facebook, and annexing the Baltic states via Ryanair. He lives alone. He probably despises the fact that the licence money he pays to keep Clarkson dressed like a home counties Danny Zuko also funds Radio 1. He wanks to Larry Olivier’s fruity baritone on The World At War. You know – he's "that guy". Comedy Nazis are pretty much unheard of in Germany. This is because, a) the use of Nazi symbols is banned there. And, b) it’s just not funny. Germans, for certain historical reasons, feel it’s probably not a nice look, all told, and that maybe if you feel the need to dress up like that, you are inadvertently sending a signal to your fellow retirees not to invite you to car boot sales or whist evenings or generally go near you with a barge-pole. So any German tourists looking to see a Comedy Nazi in his natural habitat would have had to come to Britain this Saturday and Sunday, to the Haworth 1940s Weekend. The annual Haworth Weekend attracts 20,000 people every spring to a loveable recreation of Great British pluck in the face of barmy, one-balled dictator Adolf. It comforts those present with the usual rosy glow of home fires kept burning, blackouts kept blacked out and pretty WAAF girls skipping arm-in-arm through the morning mists, on their way to a munitions factory to make more bombs to drop on German children. And Comedy Nazis, obviously.


Like bank manager transvestites at a gay pride parade, these poor souls simply have very few social opportunities to flaunt their orientation in public. You can’t just stroll down Swindon high street with an Iron Cross (Second Class) and twin lightning bolts on your lapels. I mean, Swindon’s not as genteel as it used to be. (They had the Radio 1 Big Weekend there, for Christ’s sakes.) But still – there are standards. So if someone’s having a WWII weekend, and you’re a raging Nazi-dresser, well, it’s often better cover than a battery of ack-ack guns. Unfortunately, the organisers have became increasingly fucked-off by the nose-thumbing Nazis. One of them, Emma Cox, tried to put some clear blue water between the genuine re-enactors, and the guys who just enjoy dressing up as Nazi war criminals. “This is a very controversial issue,” she considered. “Lots of people who come to the weekend are re-enactors recreating military, civilian and other features of the era. Every year there are a few people who come in SS Uniforms which is nothing to do with the re-enactments. It is just about getting dressed up as SS people.” There are always a few who spoil it for everyone else, aren't there? Hitting them where it really hurts, she went on to question the authenticity of their re-enactment: “Some people find this quite upsetting in what is meant to be a celebration of the Home Front spirit. Apart from anything, there would not have been any SS in England at the time.”


In the name of keeping everyone on-side and avoiding bad publicity, those in charge send out a message discouraging all those dressed as Nazis from attending. And every year, the Nazis just keep coming back. They said it’d be over by Christmas. It ain’t over yet. All through the town, shopkeepers were handed print-outs emblazoned with the legend: “No Nazi uniforms or insignia on these premises.” If they were more serious about it, they’d have changed them to read: “Achtung! Schnell! Schnell!” (Comedy German is the only language Comedy Nazis truly understand.) Yet for all their efforts, this weekend saw the return of those men dressed as Wehrmacht or Luftwaffe, plus a smaller number who’d gone full-fuckwit, and dressed as SS.

What do you know: It turns out that people who enjoy parading around dressed as the most universally reviled set of humans ever to have existed aren't particularly sensitive to other people's tastes: “These people who come dressed as SS have been getting very uptight that other people do not want them to come,” Cox confirmed. “They seem to be getting more determined to get dressed up in their SS uniforms.” More and more, the Comedy Nazis seem to feel that they must protect the right of every Brit to pretend to be a Nazi for amusement purposes from the forces of political correctness gone mad. Which, if you think about it, is exactly what Hitler was all about, wasn’t he? Just one big experiment in political correctness gone mad.


Isn’t this exactly what our granddads fought to preserve us from? Nazis drinking tea out of Styrofoam cups in front of an overly twee British homeware store, charming our women with their exotic talk of Kristallnachts and putsches?

Unfortunately, the Haworth Weekend team are going to have to live with what they’ve created. The peculiar British love affair with the Comedy Nazi is a direct result of the peculiar WWII mythology events like it are still draping us in. After all, how can we represent the new national religion of "finest hour" – the megawatt spiritual purity we douse ourselves in when talking about 1939-45 – if we can’t also mention its objective? We are the only folk who would engage in this sort of jolly hockey-sticks re-enactment, and consequently remain indisputably Europe’s worst Comedy Nazi offenders, precisely because we are the last Europeans still able to see the whole thing in black-and-white, as goodies vs. baddies. No matter what took place "over there", we were always at one remove. So your town was bombed. So your granddad didn’t come back from El Alamein. So what? Whatever happened, it is still a fact that no one marched into Worthing intent on raping everyone’s sisters. You didn’t have to watch as the local milkman, an otherwise cheery sort, cheerily donned the uniform of the SS-GB and issued Mrs Cohen with a transportation order. The elderly couple from Number 27 never dobbed anyone in under torture for having an illegal wireless. There is still no mass-grave on the outskirts of Bognor Regis worth mentioning. All of which means we can content ourselves with the hazy ideal that we were "all good". That the war "united us". That it was a bit of a laugh/secretly feel that maybe, it'd be nice to do it again? When in fact a glance at the lives of our European neighbours reveals that few remain innocent, much less united, when they are actually forced to choose between the worst thing in the world and something slightly worse than that. Ours may have been the noble fight, but somewhere along the line, it has left us as the ever-so-slightly self-righteous, petulant children at the table of Europe. The Comedy Nazis are merely a symptom of that, a small price to pay for being the tiny island that resisted Hitler's invading hordes.


Photographs by Jonathan Pow.

Follow Gavin on Twitter: @hurtgavinhaynes

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