Who Dares Wins

5th May, 1980

The Iranian Embassy siege unfolding on telly was the first time that programmes were interrupted to bring a live broadcast into my home. It was a bank holiday and we’d just got back from a holiday weekend in Oban. Mam and Gran agreed that the siege was “terrible”. This was the most appropriate word to use when watching the news, although it could be replaced now and then with an “awful” or a “shocking”.

The news didn’t seem any worse than normal to me. In fact this was quite entertaining and went down nicely with the yolk I was sucking out of a Cadbury’s cream egg. With the SAS scaling down buildings onto balconies and lobbing grenades through windows, this was a bonus since I still had a few days to wait for the next episode of The Professionals. Hostages had been held for five days but once the attack started it was all over inside fifteen minutes. Dogs were barking as if it was Guy Fawkes Night and giant palls of smoke drifted along the front of the white embassy building like Casper the Ghost. When it all cleared, two hostages were injured and one had died, but so had five terrorists, arithmetically making the world a better place. The other culprits were rounded up and the popularity of the SAS was ensured; they were equivalent to comic book heroes for boys of my age.

The summer specials would soon be out. My parents must’ve spent two or three quid on comics over the course of a year as I graduated from the Beano to Roy of the Rovers. Many years later, while in Barcelona, I was to discover that he has a Catalan equivalent called Eric Castel who plays in blaugrana and lives in Tossa del Mar. The Castel character was created in France by Françoise Hugues and Raymond Reding. (While working on the Tintin comic, Reding created a bizarre character called Vincent Larcher; a French international footballer who joined up with a genetically created superman called Olympio to ward off a series of threats to world stability. But that’s another story.) 

Although Eric Castel kicked off his career in1974 in the German magazine Zack,  his name and physical appearance was not defined until five years later when he transferred to Super As in France. Castel would star in 15 annuals, eventually signing for Barcelona from Inter Milan. He bears a striking resemblance to Roy Race.

But back to my early reading. I wasn’t too pleased when Scoop merged with Victor. However, I soon got into stories like Alf Tupper, the Tough of the Track. Alf works as a welder by day, loves fish suppers for tea, yet still manages to win middle distance races against young toffs like Sebastian Coe. I entered the glamorous world of war stories and chuckled away at Captain Cadman, an officer who somehow always got mentioned in dispatches no matter how cowardly his actions. The writer may have been influenced by George McDonald Fraser’s Flashman series.

I learned my first German words from these comics: schnell, achtung, and my first in Japanese, the war cry banzai! This was screamed in defiance as another “Nip” went up in a blaze of flames. There was also talk of Jerry, Bosch, Fritz and Huns: not very PC, I know. To their English-speaking compatriots, the British were known as Limeys or Pommies. Scots were “Jocks” of course, while for some reason all Welshman were called Taffy. Soldiers never simply died:  “Fritz got him with a grenade, Sir. He didn’t stand a chance. I’m afraid he’s bought it.”  A battle sounded more attractive when it was referred to as a “show”.  Comics or otherwise, the euphemisms of war are all part of the propaganda exercise.

From Countries of the World © Steven Porter, Breogan Books 2011


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