Sunday, 27 April 2014

The (War on) Terror of St Trinian's

Finally finished reading Flat Earth News by Nick Davies (first published in 2008, but better late than never). Apart from validating my existing suspicion that most of the news product we consume is at best, short on factual nutrition and at, worst, actively harmful to our understanding and mental health, it contains this little gem of an anecdote, which Davies picked up when he managed to talk his way into a two day conference on 'strateigic communications', attended by a selection of the military's top information warriors, spooks, PR professionals and securicrats:
One speaker described a British Tactical Psyops team which had been working in Iraq. Its staff consisted of a builder, a fashion photographer, a telecoms engineer, a nursing graduate, several snipers and a mortar platoon on transfer to make up the numbers. It was headed by a reservist who had been working as the head of English at a girls' private school in Surrey.
This merry band were tasked with persuading the locals to accept British troops, so they produced a newsletter which they struggled to distribute, because they had no transport and, more importantly, most of their target audience couldn't read. Adverts in the local newspaper solved the transport part of the problem, but they found that hardly any of the literate locals in post-invasion Iraq had any spare cash left for luxuries like newspapers. They felt that they were making some headway with radio broadcasts and by handing out sweets and colouring books to local kids, but then the row about the Mohamed cartoons in a Danish newspaper blew up, so sweets and colouring books no longer cut it with the locals.

I can think of a few ways to describe Britian's role in the Iraq war, but I'd never previously noticed the resemblance to a classic comedy caper from the Ealing Films era. Chortle to the hilarous expoits of an ill-matched crew of bumbling, amateurish eccentrics, headed by a Joyce Grenfell/Margaret Rutherford figure from some jolly-hockey-sticks school for "gels." Black comedy gold, just waiting to happen. Screenplay by Alan Bennett, maybe?