We’ve always been English and we’ll always be English; and it’s precisely because we are English that we’re sticking up for our right to be Burgundians!
Mrs. Pemberton (played by Betty Warren) in Passport to Pimlico
We will perhaps forever debate the true aerodynamic potential of pigs; but here is a quite enjoyable 60-year-old example of pigs carried aloft and then allowed to descend gracefully back to earth via parachute.
I recently had the pleasure of viewing a VHS copy of the 1949 Ealing Studios comedy, Passport to Pimlico, secured through my local library. The film recounts the common experiences of the London neighborhood of Pimlico where mostly working class people who have survived wartime bombing are now muddling through the shortages and rationing of England’s grim post WWII period.
Then, during a long hot post-war summer, the explosion of a previously unexploded Luftwaffe bomb reveals a buried cache of medieval treasure in the resulting crater. Included is a parchment scroll authenticated as a royal charter of King Edward IV of England (1442-1483), who secretly ceded the Pimlico area to Charles VII (1403-1461), the last Duke of Burgundy, as a refuge after the Burgundian Wars where the Duke was presumed killed.
On finding the document, the Pimlico residents reason that their neighborhood still remains part of the Duchy of Burgundy even into the twentieth century. And because they are no longer technically on British soil, they declare their independence from the repressive paraphernalia of post-war restrictions, rationing, and taxes.
As the traditional encapsulation of the consequences such events might say, “hilarity ensues…” This is a quintessentially English film. And, it is actually an investigation of Englishness, perhaps best summarized by the film’s most famous line, used to open this post.
Expressed with pride and good-humored intent, Englishness here is a bit of latent anarchy and disregard for authority coupled with working-class stubbornness, community spirit and ability to pull together in the face of a common threat. Without cynicism, the story characterizes the pride, dignity and hopes many British people felt in the post-war period.
And the pigs? Well you’ll have to wait to the climactic confrontation between Plucky Little Burgundy and Whitehall. As negations with Her Majesty’s Government go nowhere, a state of siege is declared on Pimlico.
Yet Londoners flock to their fellows aid and “Bundles to Burgundy” is the inevitable newspaper headline. Their fellow Londoners recognize in the disenfranchised people of Pimlico their own indomitable spirit in the pursuit of simple fairness. A mobilized citizenry then mount a Berlin Blockade style airlift and food parcels and pigs descend into Pimlico from planes and helicopters.
And for God’s Sake, please buy a copy of the Janus Museum’s Animal’s Aloft, a richly illustrated documentary tribute to the American animal and other foreign nationals in flight. Retrieved from the legendary archives of the National Air and Space Museum, this book is a visual history with anecdotal stories of the mascots, pets, companions and best friends that have made up a previously unexplored side of air history.