Wednesday, January 12, 2011


This current furor over censoring "Nigger" from Huckleberry Finn reminds me that the same word recently prevented a planned re-make of the 1955 movie, THE DAM BUSTERS. The movie, based on actual historical events, is about the famous 617 Squadron, Royal Air Force, which bombed the German Ruhr dams in WWII. (Mainly British airmen, the squadron also included several Canadians and a few Americans.) Their leader was W/C Guy Gibson VC, whose labrador retriever was named "Nigger," a common name for black dogs then, used without racist intent.

Those being less introspective days, the dog's name was spoken often throughout the film, including the fact that "Nigger" was the code-word radioed back to signal the mission had been carried out successfully.
However, when production started on a re-make of the movie in England in 2008, a PC uproar started against use of the dog's name; historical accuracy be damned. The remake's producers then decided to go ahead by changing the dog's name to "Nidge." Which understandably caused a public uproar the other way, by many British people who still honour the memory of Gibson VC and his dog. So, in the end, THE DAM BUSTERS film was never re-made, all for squabbling over a word.

It is touching how strongly the memory of W/C Gibson's dog lives on. The faithful labrador was run over and killed by a car just an hour before 617 Squadron aircraft took off for the historic raid to breach the Ruhr dams. Saddened, Gibson asked his Flight-Sergeant to bury the dog that same evening at midnight, the exact time the squadron was expected to be over the target in Germany that night. Nigger's grave still remains at RAF Scampton airfield, and his resting-place is visited by hundreds of people every year to this day.

To learn more, here are some film-clips from THE DAM BUSTERS:

No comments: