Monday, March 05, 2007

Urban Myths

I've talked a lot about conspiracy theories, both here and over at The Sleaze, but what about urban myths and legends? You know the sort of thing: Prince had a rib removed, Richard Gere sticks gerbils up his arse, standing next to a microwave makes women's knockers drop off. That sort of thing. The kind of story which gets told to you down the pub, in the office, in a bus queue, or wherever, presented as fact, but with no corroborating evidence whatsoever. The teller has always themselves been told by 'a friend', or a 'friend of a friend', or a friend of a friend's hairdresser. Sometimes the events described supposedly happened to a mate's cousin. However, it has never been directly experienced; all knowledge of the incident is at third or fourth hand. Every so often, one of them gets reported in the press as fact. I was reminded of these kind of stories this afternoon, when the subject came up on the radio. I fell to thinking about some of my favourite urban myths. There was one clear winner.

Without doubt my favourite urban myth (and probably the most pointless of such stories), is the one claiming that TV presenter Johnny Morris was a Nazi sympathiser. I remember the first time I heard this one - it was told to me at a friend's birthday party. The supposed 'factual basis' behind the story was that Morris' name was on the list of contacts Deputy Fuhrer Rudolf Hess had on him when he parachuted into Britain in 1941. Not that anyone telling the story had actually seen this list, of course, but the friend who's told them knew a bloke who had once seen it. Bearing in mind that in 1941 Johnny Morris wasn't the minor celebrity he became in the 1960s and 1970s, it is highly questionable as to whether he could have in any way have helped the Nazis gain favour in Britain. Furthermore, in Morris' subsequent career as a presenter of nature programmes on kids' TV, I don't recall there being any evidence of him trying to indoctrinate Britain's youth with Nazi ideals. Or was there?

Over the years I've done my best to breath life into this particular urban myth, spreading rumours about allegedly suppressed editions of his popular children's show Animal Magic. The main story I tried to perpetuate was that several episodes were pulled after someone at the BBC noticed that the uniform he wore during the zoo sequences was actually an SS uniform with the insignia removed. You'd be amazed how many people have swallowed that one, hook, line and sinker! I've also claimed that in at least one sequence where he voiced various zoo animals, the gorillas could be heard conspiring to gas the baboons in the next enclosure, as they were an inferior species. Add to that the Hitler saluting elephants and the goose-stepping giraffes, and you've got all the elements of an urban myth which has the potential to run and run. Of course, the fact Animal Magic hasn't been shown in years and is only hazily remembered by those of us over a certain age has helped keep the whole thing going. I have high hopes that if I can get this particular urban myth going on the web, it will really take off. So, if you get the opportunity, just slip the fact that Johnny Morris was a Nazi into the conversation...

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