Cinematic Support for the Anglo-American Détente, 1939–43

  • K. R. M. Short


The question of whether Great Britain was a democracy was a question of some importance in the period between 1937 and 1945. In retrospect it might appear a curious sort of question to be asking whilst the world was aflame, but it was there by the very nature of the relationship between Great Britain and the United States, both historically and at that particularly crucial period. As part of the inflated self-estimation of the United States, the average man and woman in the street — the so-called John and Jane Doe of George Gallup’s ever-questing polls — believed that America was ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave’; about ‘England’ (meaning Great Britain) they were not so sure. After all, England had been the tyrannical power against which American democracy had rebelled one hundred and fifty years earlier. Had England really changed? England was still being portrayed as an Imperialist Power subjugating the Poor Irish (a view particularly strong amongst the police forces of Boston, Chicago and New York). Moreover England was also imprisoning the courageous brown little Mr Ghandi — the loincloth-clad George Washington of his country who was peacefully fighting the power of the British Raj. Also any country which did not pay its world war one debts could not be trusted; indeed, only Finland could be trusted!


British Society British Library Documentary Film British People American Troop 
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Notes and References

  1. 12.
    Caroline Moorhead, Sidney Bernstein: A Biography (London, 1984) pp. 133–42.Google Scholar
  2. 14.
    Mel Gussow, Zanuck: Don’t say Yes until I finish talking (London, 1971) pp. 103 ff. The power of the example (perhaps linked with flyers in the RAF having a chance with Betty Grable) led to the film being banned in the Irish Republic.Google Scholar
  3. 15.
    K. R. M. Short, ‘The White Cliffs of Dover: promoting the Anglo-American alliance in World War Two’, in Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, 2 (1982) 1.Google Scholar
  4. 17.
    Eric Knight, This Above All (London, 1941) p. 473.Google Scholar
  5. 19.
    Balderston to Lowell Mellet, 8 February and 16 March 1943 (WNRC, RG 264). Kenneth MacGowan of Twentieth Century Fox wrote to OWI chief Elmer Davis in exactly the same vein on 10 April 1943. The Battle of Britain was not in fact shown on general commercial release on the grounds that it showed nothing new; it had all been seen in the newsreels. The film had got caught up in the controversy concerning the general release of the Why We Fight series which is discussed at length in David Culbert, ‘Social Engineering for a Democratic Society at War’, in K. R. M. Short (ed.), Film and Radio Propaganda in World War II (London, 1983)Google Scholar
  6. and K. R. M. Short, ‘Prelude to War: The Office of War Information, the War Activities Committee and the US Army, 1942–3’, in K. Fledelius and G. Jagshitz (eds), Studies in Film and History IV (Copenhagen and Vienna, 1986).Google Scholar
  7. 21.
    INF 6/343. This film is wrongly dated in F. Thorpe and N. Pronay, British Official Films in the Second World War: A Descriptive Catalogue (Oxford, 1980). This catalogue (and its introduction by Pronay) is essential to the researcher.Google Scholar
  8. 26.
    Knight was particularly critical of the ‘Mrs Minivers’ who thought of Britain as circa 1912 or just simply as bad; nor did he think Goebbels could have done more damage to Anglo-American understanding than that done unwittingly by A Yank at Eton or Johnny Doughboy. See Eric Knight, Portrait of a Flying Yorkshireman: Letters from Eric Knight in the United States to Paul Rotha in England (London, 1952).Google Scholar
  9. 28.
    M. Mead, American Troops and the British community (London, 1944).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Philip M. Taylor 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • K. R. M. Short

There are no affiliations available

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