Dame Vera Lynn: Happy 100th Birthday
Sometimes, things become so familiar we stop even thinking about them. Dame Vera Lynn being a case in point: she’s such a part of our island story, it’s easy to take her for granted – perhaps even dismiss her as a bit twee; the human equivalent of a union jack tea-towel.
This lovely tribute to mark the Forces Sweetheart’s centenary was a timely reminder of why Lynn became, to quote an unusually sincere Barry Humphries, ‘as much the voice of the Second World War as Winston Churchill’.
Take We’ll Meet Again: its impact may have been blunted through over-exposure, but when it was released, at a time when the Allies were losing the war, its message of ‘optimism, hope, redemption and reunion’ (Humphries again) must have felt like a shining light in the darkness.
Easy to forget, too, that Lynn came under fire, even at the time, for being ‘too sentimental’; it was bad for morale, she was told, to make our brave boys feel so homesick, and the BBC cancelled her radio show.
Undaunted, she simply went out and sang to them in person, bringing a piece of England to the corner of foreign fields. ‘I had a wife and daughter waiting at home,’ said one veteran. ‘She brought them closer.’ Another, who recalled trekking through the Burmese jungle to see her perform in a paddy field, still couldn’t talk about it without crying, even today.
Recalling her early days in London’s east end, Lynn – still sharp as a tack – admitted she’d only really sung to please her parents. She also revealed she’d had one singing lesson in her life, after which her tutor had declared: ‘I can’t train that voice. It’s not a natural voice.’ ‘I wonder if she ever heard me on the radio after that…?’ she mused, with a twinkle.
In 1952, Lynn became the first British artist to score a US number one, pre-empting ‘the British invasion’ by a decade. The fact the song, Auf Wiederseh’n Sweetheart, was German says a lot Dame Vera: she’s no Little Englander, simply a Great Briton.
Another Vera who’s fast on the way to becoming a national treasure, Brenda Blethyn’s doughty detective returned for her seventh series, tramping around Northumberland in that floppy fishing hat investigating the murder of a wildlife ranger. ‘Eee, I am so sorry, love,’ she told the victim’s sister, sounding more like an agony aunt than a DCI. But she gets the job done, our Vera. Plus, on what other cop show would freshwater pond algae provide a vital clue to catching the killer?
Mixing specially shot footage and archive material, Simon Amstell’s ‘first full-length feature film’ sees Britain confronting ‘the shame and silence of its animal-eating past’, from the comfort of a utopian future where Captain Bird’s Eye is reviled as one of history’s greatest monsters . As a slice of vegan polemic, it’s hardly subtle, but it’s frequently funny and, this carnivore has to admit, occasionally horrific. Think Chris Morris’s Brass Eye but a bit less… well, meaty.
Published in Waitrose Weekend, March 23, 2017
(c) Waitrose Weekend