The sigh which Stephen Fry gave live on radio on Friday 3 June as he was interviewed by Simon Mayo was clearly audible. Mayo read out a question about the Dambusters remake, sent in by a listener: ‘Is the dog still with us and does it have a different name?’
Fry made the perfectly justifiable point that things have changed since the original film came out, and that the name was to be changed to ‘Digger’. He went on:
It’s no good saying that it is the Latin word for black or that it didn’t have the meaning that it does now – you just can’t go back, which is unfortunate.
You can go to RAF Scampton and see the dog’s grave and there he is with his name, and it’s an important part of the film.
The name of the dog was a code word to show that the dam had been successfully breached.
In the film, you’re constantly hearing ‘N-word, N-word, N-word, hurray’ and Barnes Wallis is punching the air. But obviously that’s not going to happen now.
So Digger seems OK, I reckon.
You would think that in these days of instant reaction, this comment would have been round the world by teatime. But, strangely, most of the interwebnet was silent on the subject. (Although not this blog. Thanks to a tipoff by a reader, I was able to download the podcast and wrote a piece last Saturday.)
A full week later on Friday 10 June, the BBC Lincolnshire webpage picked up the comments and later in the day so did, inevitably, the Daily Mail.
Cue furore. Every discussion board and forum has gone nuts over the story. As usual when a Dambusters story hits the headlines, there has been a huge spike in hits on this blog. And, as usual, there are a number of comments in my pending file as readers express their views.
That’s where they’ll stay. I’m not going to publish them on this website because, frankly, this is a tedious debate that has happened many times over.
Back in 2009, writer Steven Baxter put the point well in his Enemies of Reason blog: ‘I think there was a time when it was acceptable to use words like Paki or nigger or sambo, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t offensive, or hurtful, or wrong.’
I agree. The world has moved on, folks. The word is offensive and it simply can’t be used in the remake of the film, however historically accurate it might be. You can justify using a racist word in other places on the interwebnet, but you can’t on this blog. If you send me a comment about it, I won’t publish it. My blog, my rules.