by Peter Cook
Alf Garnett would have voted UKIP, wouldn’t he? He would have liked the pint and a fag image that Nigel Farage tries to put across. And you can’t really imagine “the bald-headed git” embracing gay marriage.
I don’t think the likes of the Till Death Us Do Part TV character should be condemned too harshly for their bigotry. After all, his generation had come through five hard years of the Second World War followed by post-war austerity.
Many carried mental and physical scars from the conflict – though not Alf himself, obviously. They were exhausted, and after the bombs and battles of warfare had no capacity to absorb major change. What they wanted was a quiet life.
For my generation, born at the tail-end of the war, things have been different. We have been called upon to accept massive changes at regular intervals. No sooner had you got to grips with one challenge, than the next came along.
An early one for me was religion. I was a choirboy. Each morning at primary school began with a hymn and prayers. And, as a wolf cub, I had promised to “do my duty to God and the Queen”.
Then one day in the second year at grammar school a teacher asked which of us believed in God.
Only half of us put our hands up, and that astounded me. It had never occurred to me to question the notion before. Would we all be struck down with a thunderbolt of doom?
We weren’t, and I was forced to contemplate the possibility that God might not exist — and, since biology was one of my top subjects, contemplate it in the light of Darwin’s theory of evolution.
It’s one of those things I have never really come to terms with.
I suppose immigration was the first earthly challenge — in particular the influx of black people, who, according to the Alf Garnetts of this world, were going to steal our jobs and seduce our women. Not that I had either.
I had never seen a black person until, at the age of eight, I saw Arsenal at Highbury. At the final whistle, I was awestruck by just how many black people were pouring from the ground.
When, aged 17, I started work in Gravesend, I came into contact with the abundant Sikh community. Senior staff on the newspaper for which I worked were sneeringly racist, as was most of the white population, though few had got to know any Sikhs.
Consequently, I decided to write a series of picture features about this community, its religion, way of life and culture. It was a venture that brought me lots of friends, broadened my outlook on life, and opened the door to a host of useful contacts.
History tells us that, far from being a drain on the British economy, immigrants worked hard, were self-supporting, tended to buy their own properties, and kept institutions such as the NHS from terminal decline.
I suppose the next revolution was feminism. Women had proved during the war they could work as effectively as men, without the propensity to spend all their wages on booze.
Now they wanted full equality and took to burning their bras. In some cases, bust lines were lowered to somewhere around the belly button level. So that was never going to last. And some women reverted to helpless little girlies when it came to changing a wheel.
For a while, female lorry drivers or plumbers found their way into the papers, but now even women serving in combat zones raise little interest.
There is the glass ceiling that women say keeps them out of company boardrooms. But that might have more to do with not going to the right school, cor joining the right clubs.
Nearly 70 years of social change has been the story of my generation. That’s how it will continue, no doubt, though it’s hard to contemplate what will happen next.
Whatever it is, we may as well embrace it. You can’t change change.
If you try you end up in a state of perpetual rage, as of course was dear old Alf Garnett.