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Was “The Cruel Sea” really socialist propaganda?

This is a genuine question – in that I do not know the answer (and would like to know). I only know “The Cruel Sea” from the film (about the Royal Navy against the German “U Boats” in the North Atlantic during World War II) so I do not know what the book (or whatever) was like.

I ask because the BBC radio production (which I heard an episode of on Sunday) of “The Cruel Sea” was full of socialist propaganda – and some of it was very odd.

For example, I can understand (just about) someone who has just seen an oil tanker ship blown up by a German submarine, rage against people who waste fuel by “speeding to their golf club”. It would not be my first thought whilst watching men die – but people are different, perhaps someone else would blame people who speed to golf clubs (rather than the Germans).

However, a lot of the rest of the production was harder to accept. For example the Captain of the new Royal Navy ship lines up the crew and tells them that they have been unemployed for years because of the greed and selfishness of other people. Whatever the faults of 1930s Britain – it was not exactly famous for “greed” and “selfishness”, it was a rather austere place. Then he tells the crew that now everyone (on the ship) will work together for the common good and….. (a speech that might have come out of the mouth of a Nazi SS commander rather than a Royal Navy Captain – who would have been more likely to say “carry on men” and not wasted any more time).

And later sailors talk of how the rich are going to be made to pay for a “proper health service” after the war. Are the words “health service” in the originial story? “If they spend all this money in war, they can spend it peace” (says a sailor), yes just carry on the capital consumption you are doing in war to finance the Welfare State in peace time – I am sure that will work out fine.

Also another sailor talks of how his father’s farm was runied after “the bankers went bust in 1931″.

Britain went off the gold standard in 1931 (if people insist on calling the credit bubble antics of Governor M. Norman of the Bank of England and Ben Strong of the New York Federal Reserve a “gold standard”), but did “the bankers” go bust in this year?

I rather thought that British (private) bankers in the 1930s were rather careful and traditional people (in three piece suites and bowler hats). But perhaps they really were reckless high rollers, who “went bust in 1931″. Perhaps whilst “speeding to their golf clubs” and, thus, causing peope to either burn or drown in the freezing waters of the North Atlantic.

It is all clear to me now.

Almost needless to say, no one seems to show any sign of religious faith. Everyone is an athiest in a foxhole, and no one calls out to God (or recites a prayer to steady nerves),  silly me for thinking some people might.

Perhaps the next BBC  Radio Four “dramatisation” will be on the Battle of Midway.

Lots of stuff about U.S. Navy sailors talking about the glories of socialism – and blaming evil Republicans when Amercan ships are sunk.


  1. NickM says:

    Well, I don’t know the book, movie or the radio production but…

    1. The golf thing rings true emotionally even though with petrol rationing it isn’t.

    2. As to “greed and selfishness” and “unemployment” etc. My understanding was that Britain’s economy improved considerably in the latter-half of the ’30s. As far as banking (and central banking) details – I am not qualified to comment.

    3. I very much doubt anyone would have specifically used the term “health service” at the time. Yes, the usual rhetoric about a “Land fit for heroes”. I say “anyone” but what I mean is anyone outside the political loop. Certainly note sailors.

    PS Paul – you have a couple of howlers of typoes – addressing the “crow” and bankers in “three piece suites” conjure bizarre images. Shall I sort ‘em?

  2. Kevin B says:

    Paul, this guy remembers the book and had a similar reaction to the programme.

  3. Paul Marks says:

    Nick – I corrected the typing mistakes (twice), there is something wrong with the editing process (at my end or the Cats end).

    But I will try again.

  4. macheath says:

    Kevin B, thanks for the link.

    Paul, I’m glad I wasn’t the only one struck by this. I’d have turned off in disgust, but for the fact I was driving at the time and needed the radio on for the travel news.

    The author of ‘The Cruel Sea’, the son of a surgeon and an alumnus of Winchester School and Trinity College Cambridge, was a Law graduate who joined the Navy during the war, working his way up to the rank of Lieutenant-Commander and later joining the diplomatic service. What he would have made of this partisan butchery of his work, I can’t begin to imagine.

    If the book contains political bias, it is against the bureaucracy and petty squabbles of desk-bound officialdom that blight the lives of active servicemen, and against the abuse of privilege by dockside and industrial workers in shamelessly exploiting those risking life and limb to protect their freedom.

  5. CountingCats says:


    You posted the item three times. I assumed that this was an error on your part and took the liberty of removing the first two copies, on the assumption that the final one would most likely be the, well, final, one.

    It may have been that you put your corrections in one of those.

    I am sorry if I was presumptuous.

  6. Tim Newman says:

    For example, I can understand (just about) someone who has just seen an oil tanker ship blown up by a German submarine, rage against people who waste fuel by “speeding to their golf club”.

    Hmmm. If the person, having seen somebody racing to the golf club, recalls a tanker being sunk and rages then I can understand. But if the person has moments before witnessed a tanker being sunk and his first action is to rage at people back home racing to golf clubs then it is horseshit on stilts.

  7. NickM says:

    I don’t see anything by anyone called Mark.

    The cat’s server is a fickle beast – appropriate for a feline!

    I dunno. It is possible – just possible – that the reaction was an example of something I’ve heard of a lot in things like war memoirs and (well researched) historical novels on war which is an anger from those at the sharp-end to those back home because they simply don’t understand what it’s like in actual combat.

    Intra-specific strife in times of war is common-place. Almost every aerial campaign in history has been characterized by those on the ground being disdainful of the air-boys. It is one of the reasons the Geneva Coventions stipulate that custody of PoWs is handed to the appropriate “opposite number” service where practical. The RAF came in for a lot of stick over Dunkirk from the rescued soldiers. It is easy to forget that when so shortly afterwards they were so lauded as “The few” of what is now almost mythology. There are two primary reasons for that. The RAF didn’t have a fighter with the range/endurance to mount sufficient standing patrols (lack of fuel-fraction) being a recurring theme throughout RAF history. The second was the low cloud base which meant nobody on the beaches really saw what was going on “upstairs”.

    The comment could just as easily have been made about Mrs Jones of Gasworks Rd moaning about her bacon ration. Perhaps the choice of golfers here is interesting and perhaps not.

  8. CountingCats says:

    Just goes to show… It is midnight and I was on my feet all day. I shouldn’t make any comments at all at this time of night.

    Sorry Paul.

  9. macheath says:

    FTR, here’s the reaction to the tanker explosion from the book:

    ‘Aboard Compass Rose, as in every escort that crossed the Atlantic, there had developed an unstinting admiration of the men who sailed in oil-tankers.[...] The stuff they carried – the life-blood of the whole war – was the most treacherous cargo of all; a single torpedo, a single small bomb, even a stray shot from a machine-gun could transform their ship into a torch.[...] It was these expendable seamen who were the real ‘petrol coupons’ – the things one could wangle from the garage on the corner; and whenever sailors saw or read of petrol being wasted or stolen, they saw the cost in lives as well, peeping from behind the headlines or the music-hall joke, feeding their anger and disgust.’

    Not a golf-club, race meeting or pheasant shoot in sight.

  10. RAB says:

    Yes indeed, thanks for the link Kevin.

    Nah, this is just a leftie retard trying to make it “relevant” to an Eastenders audience, and has fuckin ruined it.

    The Golf club thing just doesn’t ring true, and neither does the farm thing. The fuckwit writer knows no history and hasn’t bothered to learn any. maybe not his fault though, as it isn’t taught anymore, and the Socialist take on the past has become received wisdom today, even if it is fiction.

    Dad’s Army gives you a better view on the war than almost anything. Who is the only person in the programme to own a vehicle? The fat cat banker Mainwaring? Nope, Jonesy the butcher. There were very few cars on the road in 1939. My dad had one, and he was a member of a Golf Club too, but the Golf Club was a nine holer with a tin shed for a clubhouse and like Jonesy, dad was a butcher and needed the car to deliver the meat. Nobody having watched an oil tanker explode in the War would have come out with that kind of sixties/seventies class warrior crap.

    As to farmers going broke because of greedy bankers in 1931, well it’s utter bollocks! Farming was in rapid decline in the 20s and thirties because we were getting cheap food imports from the Empire and America. Our farmers couldn’t compete. When the War and the U Boats turned up though and tried to starve us to death, land was recultivated pretty damn quick. Hence the dig for victory and the Land Army and Girls etc.

    So thanks Paul, I will definately give this version a wide berth and stick to the Jack Hawkins movie.

  11. Paul Marks says:

    No problem Cats – you did the right thing (and sorry that the one shoe monster is still clinging on as Prime Minister).

    Macheath – I forgot about the shoot and going off to the races.

    Perhaps I was too busy selling car parking tickets at the time – and my semi senile brain put in “golf club” instead.

    Either way none of this the-rich-are-to-blame stuff is in the book.

    The BBC just made it up – as they do with lots of stuff.

    Neither the BBC or Hollywood were always as bad as they are now. With Hollywood I think the remake of the “Manchurian Candidate” would have woken up the most gentle soul.

    “I know – let us take one of the few anti Communist films Hollywood has made, and remake it as a bash-big-business film”.

    But at least one does not have to pay for Hollywood.

    The point of the BBC (as you have so often pointed out) is that one is forced to pay for their tripe.

  12. Paul Marks says:

    Thinking about my own comment… I can do that – I am fat, bald and old, I can do what I like (no Rick – I meant that as a figure of speech, I do not really mean that my fatness and lack of hair gives me the right to murder people, spare me the moral theology lecture, no PLEASE I have not been student for years and I really do not have the time…..I will set Nick on you if you will not shut up…)

    It was odd that the new “Manchurian Candidate” film came out just before Barack Obama started his campaign to be President of the United States.

    See the book “The Manchurian President”.

    Just one of life’s amusing coincidences.

  13. NickM says:

    Oddly enough… I was thinking Manchurian candidate recently in general (you think funny things taking the bins out) and it seems to me (unless a truly elaborate double-bluff is/was in the offing) Obama doesn’t fit. Now someone who is rather bland yet looks “classically presidential” – kinda like Jeff Tracey of The Thunderbirds – you know, full head of hair but strategically graying enough to suggest suitable gravitas just might fit. They’d have to give him a bit of a kink such as a slightly non-standard religion in order for it not to be too obvious…

    The ideal candidate also has to have great teeth which he may or may not have got in a certain state that sounds like “Mass-a-chew-sets”.

    I have no idea who I might be thinking of.

    I am now re-donning my tin-foil titfer.

  14. macheath says:

    Re US Presidents: I’ve often wondered about the second series of Babylon 5, which appeared around about the time Bill Clinton launched his campaign for a second term.

    The Warner Bros. series featured a new commander, a central figure whose role was to resolve conflict and provide strong leadership.

    He was played by Bruce Boxleitner:
    Remind you of anyone?

  15. Bill Sticker says:

    Re dialogue and inspiring speeches in War movies; anyone watch the scene in ‘Das Boot’ where the Kapitanleutnant played by Jurgen Prochnow delivers his ‘speech’ to his crew?

    “Okay men. All set?”
    “Yes Captain!”


    No doubt a PC version would include a rant about sending all those wicked Exxon-Mobil tankers to the bottom to ‘stop global warming’. The propaganda has gotten that silly.

    An old friend of my family who actually served on Convoy duty on Destroyers in the North Atlantic and the Med, were he still alive, would have dismissed the new BBC production with the one word critique; “Bollocks.”

  16. CJ Nerd says:

    Knocking around in the background of all this, though I’m surprised no-one here has mentioned it, is this cartoon:
    “The price of petrol has been increased by one penny – Official.”

    I would have taken it as a respectful tribute to those sailors, but during the war it was a matter of party political controversy- see “The price of petrol” incident in this biography.

    Note that the cartoonist’s position was that “the cartoon was intended to illustrate that wasting fuel had serious consequences in terms of the risks taken (and the lives lost) by sailors bringing it to the country” but the Wikipedia authoring collective takes it to refer to profiteering.

  17. Eddie Willers says:

    RAB, I think, hit’s the nail on the head.

    It’s just a dumbed-down, leftie-ignoramus ‘re-working’ for the Eastenders generation.

    Al-Beeb fucked up Wyndham’s classic ‘Day of the Triffids’ in a similar fashion a few years back.

  18. NickM says:

    Everyone fucked-up “Day of the Triffids”. Except, arguably, the 1980s BBC mini-series. It’s just one of those stories so brilliant and so iconic that no “creative” can ever bring themselves to tell it straight.

  19. bloke in spain says:

    Be interesting, BBC leftoid luvvies trying to cope with the folk actually fought the War. I’ve got almost a complete set of “War Illustrated” which was a magazine printed throughout the period. A seamen is recounting his experience of being adrift in the Atlantic on a floating oil tank for several days & describes him & his mate being hauled aboard the rescuing ship “looking like a pair of niggers we were so black”
    Must say, that sounds a lot more like the language of my maternal grandfather, who got himself torpedoed in two merchant ships on the same voyage, than overdue concern about golfers. He worked in the docks, later in the war, & was always scathing about the ‘who you know’ culture of the unionised dockers with their organised pilfering of convoy cargoes.

  20. macheath says:

    BiS, your grandfather wasn’t alone in his opinion, but I’m willing to bet that next week’s concluding episode of this savagely mutilated classic novel will strongly downplay the book’s savage indictment of the unionised dockers’ idleness, shoddy work and systematic theft of emergency rations from the ships’ lifeboats, if it includes it at all.

    Ironically, the BBC could have found much to explore – or even approve of – in the way Monsarrat, a committed pacifist, came to enlist and serve with distinction in the RNVR and write one of the definitive war novels of the 20th century. The objectivity this viewpoint gives to his narrative is one of the defining features of the novel, along with the wit and humour that the radio play completely ignores.

    The play missed the point so completely that it was like listening to an adaptation written by a Martian.

  21. Lynne says:

    The production was by the leftarded BBC. They like nothing better than to rewrite history while wearing ruby tinted spectacles. ‘Nuff said.

  22. DB says:

    (I’ve just posted the following in the comments at Biased BBC blog and hope you don’t mind me reproducing it here)

    Just listened to some of this. The adaptation is by veteran BBC playwright John Fletcher, and is so clunking it actually made me laugh out loud (I certainly don’t want to seek out any of his other work). Here’s the smack-the-listener-round-the-head way the Geordie-sounding character is introduced:

    -Joined up after that bastard Chamberlain signed his scrap of paper in Munich. Soon as he said “peace in our time” I knew there’d be war on. Nothing else a man of progressive views could do. We’ll not get a decent society here in Britain until those nasty scum…

    -Ah, we’ve got a political on board!

    -Born in Jarrow. Not one man in our street had work. I’ve got politics in me bones.

    It really is so bad it’s funny. The “progressive” hero from Jarrow with “politics in me bones” who knew he had to join up after Munich. It’s on a par with the League of Gentleman’s Legs Akimbo theatre group take on heroic poor northerners.

    Here’s an interviewwith Fletcher from last year in which he recounts his favourite play:

    “I think ‘Russia’ is probably my favourite – though the second best sequence had to be dropped for reasons of time.

    The opening goes on a bit, but I dwell so much on the Edwardian anarcho-syndicalist trade unions and strikes because anarcho-syndicalism is my favourite form of political organization – before marxist-leninism and fascism screwed up working class movements probably for ever.”

    From the same interview:

    “……the Beeb has been so badly managed since Birt – and has been so poor in its moves against private monopolists like Murdoch and privatising politicians like Thatcher and Blair and now Jeremy Hunt – that amongst the people who actually produce programmes, as opposed to the vast corporate class which has moved into and expanded top management positions in the last 20 years (and I’m talking about a class far higher than anyone involved in audio drama), there is less and less money to spend on programmes.”

    Less money to spend on programmes. If this dreadful agitprop is the best they come up with, thank fuck.

  23. Peter MacFarlane says:

    I haven’t read the book but I think we all know the answer – typical BBC-scum rewriting of history.

    The phrase “Homes fit for heroes” was a piece of left-wing propaganda which didn’t surface until after the war was over and Labour had won the general election.

    The fact that we have to pay for the production of travesties like this is beyond horrible.

    Privatise the damn thing, now, and let’s see how many people are willing to pay to be lied to.

  24. Paul Marks says:

    Yes Nick – the victor yesterday does look and sound like the ideal “Manchurian Candidate”.

    If he becomes President and starts talking about the “international community” and the need for “us to all work together” then the tin foil hat wearers will be vindicated.

    What we have now is actually more scary – a Marxist in the Whitehouse WITHOUT any real cover up of his background.

    I say no real cover up because his background is easy to find out – it is just that the msm (who know about it) choose not to report it (so most voters have not got a clue).

    In short the msm (and so on) is COMPLICITE.

    One can not “expose Obama to the media” because they already know. And they are on the same side that he is.

    All that is rather more scary than a few people organzing a conspiracy.

    There is no conspiracy – it is the whole “mainstream” culture (the education system, the media, the…..) that is rotten.


    Bill Sticker – yes that is exactly how the BBC would have done “Das Boat”.

    Accept both the tankers would be Exxon – and Exxon-Mobile would also turn out to be behind Hitler.

    That is basically what is taught in school sand universities now “big business (including American big business) put Hitler in power”.

    The true story (as shown in Turner’s “Big Business and the rise of Hitler”) that most “big business” was deeply HOSTILE to Adolf Hitler has gone down the memory hole (or, rather, has been shoved down the memory hole).

  25. Tim Newman says:

    Accept both the tankers would be Exxon – and Exxon-Mobile would also turn out to be behind Hitler.

    Sorry to be a pedant but…ExxonMobil. The world’s largest private oil company has yet to branch into communications. ;)

  26. Paul Marks says:

    Silly me.

  27. Peter McFarlane said: The phrase “Homes fit for heroes” was a piece of left-wing propaganda which didn’t surface until after the war was over and Labour had won the general election.

    ‘Homes fit for heroes’ is a campaign slogan from just after WW1. It is a misquotation of Lloyd George in a speech to the effect that his coalition government would make Britain “a fit land for heroes to live in.” Nothing whatsoever to do with WW2 and its aftermath.

  28. TomO says:

    Hmm.. didn’t hear it – but the from the accounts I’ve heard – it fits well into the pattern of PC lefty-luvvie delusional toxic tripe that the BBC pump out as drama…

    I daresay Monsarrat didn’t know or was warned off commenting on American oil companies actually routinely refuelling U-boats prior to Pearl Harbour… or that our good comrade good ‘ole Joe Stalin was providing operating bases for U-boats in Russian ports. WW2 was a damned sight more complicated than the simplistic fable we’ve been fed.

    That the ghastly creeps at the BBC see fit to muddy the waters and skew an adaptation for radio in this fashion is shameful and displays a complete lack of respect for the men who perished – coupled to an increasingly obvious appetite for crass, dissembling socialist dogma.

    I’ve had to turn the car radio off more than once as the distraction of this sort of ignorant revisionary bilge really takes my mind off driving…

    what, I wonder – do they think this sort of thing will achieve?

  29. RAB says:

    what, I wonder – do they think this sort of thing will achieve?

    Amnesia and Revisionism.

    Has anyone seen Paxo’s Empire? Oh my friggin eyes!!!

  30. Peter Principle says:

    “A land fit for heros” has now been replaced by ” A land fit for fuckwits”.

  31. TomO says:

    I understand that ideological tinkering with classic stories is rife in children’s broadcasting – it’s easy to snipe with Snow White and the seven height challenged persons – but it’s far, far worse than that. A while back somebody did a fisking of “Horrible Histories” and exposed it as a truly troubling right-on PC la-la land vehicle.

    The sooner the correction jerk down the lead from the happens the better – or in fact disband the BBC altogether – the organisation is clearly busying itself expensively contriving a reality that I don’t recognise.

  32. Peter Melia says:

    The “Battle of the Atlantic” which is it’s official title, is the longest recorded battle in history, it lasted from day 1 to day “last”, almost 5 years. There are two great books about it, the best was “The Cruel Sea” followed by “Das Boote” (probably a German would reverse that placing!). As they cover the battle from opposite sides, they really should both be read. The thing is, the Cruel Sea featured the Atlantic itself, winter, summer, almost always a really bloody awful place. Of the two ships which feature in the book, the first, a Canadian-built corvette of the Flower class, Compass Rose, is well described early in the book as a tin can. It had horrible sea keeping capabilities, in that horrible sea, as is well borne out in the film. It’s a story of practically endless bloody boredom, punctuated by dreadful bloody strife, with mind-numbing losses of life. As an ex merchant navy person who has spent years battling the Atlantic, in peacetime, I was able to well imagine what life must have been like at that time. For the other side, Das Boote brought us up to scratch on the bloody awful life the Uboat crews had. Neither book nor the original films has (for they still exist) any modern class warfare at all.
    The BBC is, quite simply, misleading the public. Their people have the book(s) to read, so they must know the truth of it all.

  33. Peter Melia says:

    PS. After posting the last bit, I remembered reading that Monsarrat had actually served in a Flower Class corvette, and that the book accurately reflected his experiences. It wasn’t fiction at all.

  34. Old Mike says:

    I’d love to see these “revisionistas” talk to my 92 year old father. He was a fleet air arm pilot flying “stringbags” from converted grain carriers, “mac ships” on anti-submarine patrols for the north atlantic convoys.

    He may be 92 but his wit and sharp tongue would leave a few well deserved mental scars.

  35. mattinkent says:

    Political revisionism not withstanding, did anyone ‘record’ this adaptation? I’ve just discovered that the iPlayer Episode 1 just expired so I’ve missed it :(


  36. Mattinkent says:

    Political revisionism not withstanding, did anyone ‘record’ adaptation? I just discovered that Episode 1 has expired on iPlayer :(


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