‘Who Do You Think You Are Kidding?’: The Retrieval of the Second World War in Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day and Ian McEwan’s Atonement

  • Nick Bentley


The iconic BBC comedy series Dad’s Army set on the home front during the Second World War has over its title credits the song ‘Who Do You Think You Are Kidding, Mr Hitler?’ performed by Bud Flanagan. This song includes the lines: ‘[w]e are the boys who will stop your little game/We are the boys who will make you think again’. Many believe it to be a song from the 1940s, due no doubt to the authentic musical arrangement, and the voice of Flanagan, a singer who did indeed have a number of hits during the war with his partner Chesney Allen.1 In fact, it was co-written in 1968 by Jimmy Perry (one of the writers on the show along with David Croft), and regular composer for the BBC Derek Taverner. A song, then, about standing up to ‘kidding’ is itself presented as an authentic artefact from a war that in 1968 was over twenty years in the past. The song introduces a show that playfully mocks several English and/or British archetypes: the bumptious middle-class little Englander (Mainwaring), the public-school educated philanderer (Wilson), the old soldier (Jones), the mummy’s boy (Pike), the canny and miserly Scotsman (Frazer), the effete aesthete (Godfrey), the cockney spiv (Walker), and the officious job’s worth (Hodges), whilst simultaneously celebrating the freeborn and collective spirit of the English (and occasionally Scottish) everyman in the face of the threat of foreign, totalitarian domination from across the sea.


Vascular Dementia Historical Narrative Harsh Reality Literary Fiction Literary Mode 
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© Nick Bentley 2014

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  • Nick Bentley

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