Monday, March 10, 2014

Who Spoofed Whom?

I picked up Sean Longden's book T-Force from my local library.  It's an enjoyable book about a little-known (at least to me) composite unit of the British armed forces that, in the final months of WW2 and the first months of the Cold War, led the process of capturing German scientists, research facilities and industrial complexes.

I was somewhat amused by one item though.  On page 185 Longden writes:

"At Utrecht the unit detained a Dr Strabismus, scientist who had earned his place on the [Combined Intelligence Objectives Sub-committee] list due to his research on perpetual motion.  The doctor was an interesting find since he was last reported as working in Spain in 1944."

So far so unremarkable, you may think.  But I was a great fan of Beachcomber, By The Way a short-lived Radio 4 series based upon the writings of J B Morton.  Morton's Beachcomber column was a feature of the Daily Express from the 1920s and earlier.  In many ways it prefigured the surreal comedy of the Goons and Monty Python and featured a number of recurring characters including an inventor and scientist called Dr Strabismus (whom God preserve) of Utrecht.

Now I've been unable to find evidence for when Dr Strabismus first appeared in the column but I think it's unlikely that Beachcomber took the name from an obscure real-life scientist whose name happened to be the Latin for "squint".  So the question then arises, is Longden spoofing us or has he been taken in?

Personally, I rather like the latter option.  The dying months of World War 2 were a time of chaos when the British Army's natural tendency to keep voluminous paperwork on everything must have been under tremendous strain.  I love the idea of some bored Army officer introducing a beloved fictional character into the records to see how far it got.

Of course, if any of you know differently, I'd love to hear.

1 comment:

Russell Phillips said...

I read T-Force some time ago. I had no idea about the possibly-fake identity of Dr Strabismus.

Like you, I like the idea that he was made up by some bored officer during the war. Maybe he had a quota to meet :)