I commend you to David Mitchell’s column in the Observer today about the waxwork Hitler at Madame Tussaud’s in London which is causing controversy because people will insist on getting photographed next to it doing mock Heil Hitler salutes.
Some people found this offensive and complained saying they were the grandchildren of survivors of the concentration camps and shouldn’t be subjected to “an unequivocal demonstration of antisemitism and bigotry.”
As DM points out, while they unfortunately find it offensive, they are not recognising that the tourists are making fun of Hitler. Us Brits have a long history of laughing at the squitty mono-testicled, moustacheod dictator and it’s in keeping with tradition to ridicule his waxwork at will.
DM writes “The couple (complainants) actually photographed two young tourists heil-Hitlering next to the waxwork and one of them is doing the moustache with her other hand. I’m pretty sure that neo-Nazis don’t do the moustache. They certainly didn’t do the moustache at Nuremberg rallies.”
But wouldn’t it have been great if they had? I mean, could they really have kept straight faces? Wouldn’t the assembled devotees have turned to look at each other and burst out into great fits of giggles?
Anyway, in response to the complaint Madame Tussauds issued this statement, written just about as badly as it could be (also satisfactorily ripped to shreds by DM) – “ We proactively encourage our visitors to interact with the waxworks should they so choose.”
That was news to me. Things have changed since my last visit.
When we visited Tussauds in London with the kids years ago I’m sure there were “don’t touch” notices everywhere.
Otherwise I would have grasped Darcey Bussell’s delicate outstretched fingers and aped her “both arms out, one leg up, en point” balletic stance. (Can you tell I was never packed off to ballet lessons?)
Darcey Bussell waxwork was gorgeous. Total female beauty and incredibly finely toned muscled legs. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. I walked around it exclaiming “Look how tiny her waist is! Honestly, Look. It’s really tiny. 18Inches or something..” Epitome of female beauty if ever there was one. Then in real life she proved herself to be such a good sport that she took part in French and Saunders show. Sickening, really.
If interacting had been allowed, I would have stood next to Joan Collins to demonstrate how tiny my head was compared to her massive made-up and coiffed cranium and how gargantuan my child-bearing hips compared to hers. David Bowe’s hips were even smaller – about the width of my upper arm. David Attenborough, who I have met, was exactly right in height but had formality about him, a stiffness, that he doesn’t have in real life. That would probably be the wax, then, I hear you thinking. Well ok, you might have a point.
It was all about height, really. “Wow, the Queen’s quite small.” “Oh look at tiny Tom Cruise!”
Call me old-fashioned but I don’t really think interacting with the waxworks is a good idea. Margaret Thatcher’s effigy wouldn’t last long, that’s for sure – neither would Kylie Minogue’s for very different reasons – and it would be just to gruesome to see tourists in the Chamber of Horrors climbing into the bath with George Smith’s submerged “bride in the bath” to give a cheesy grin for murder-obsessed granny back in Melbourne.
The whole thing about waxworks being family attractions has puzzled me a bit since I was mildly traumatised, in a not-understanding-at-all kind of way by the little museum of waxworks they used to have in Blackpool.
I was five years old, with a shiny short bob, a smart camel coat, brilliant white ankle socks and Clark’s sandals and on holiday with my nan and my dad while mum stayed at home with my baby brother.
It was mostly about donkey rides on the sand as far as I was concerned. Oh and they took me to see Lonnie Donnegan instead of Cliff Richard – some kind of heinous crime which my mother, a big Cliff and Elvis fan, never forgave or forgot.
“You passed up the chance to see Cliff Richard?” she kept asking my dad, randomly, for months and even years afterwards. It would always come up on Christmas afternoon “Yes well, you can’t talk. After all, you took our Jan to see Lonnie Donegan instead of Cliff Richard.”
But I know for certain that they took me to the waxworks museum – I think it was run by a Tussaud, Louis probably, who was Madame’s great-grandson.
I don’t remember anything about it except that the waxworks were, for the most part, very waxy and pale indeed and rather unreal in a really creepy, chilling kind of way and the exhibition included a small but effective Chamber of Horrors. I was also at an age where I wouldn’t have recognised anyone except perhaps Mrs Woodentop or Valerie Singleton.
To give nan and dad some credit, they may have formed a human shield so that I couldn’t see the worst of it but what I did see has stayed with me; people whose skin was thick with festering rashes languishing sick with plague (I actually typed plaque then but you don’t die of plaque unless it builds up to six inches thick and impedes swallowing) and others plastered with terrible sores and carbuncles.
“Nan. What’s the matter with those people?”
“I don’t know,” she’d reply vaguely.
“They don’t look very well, do they?” she replied in the same tone she used when talking about Mrs Hopkins down the road who was bad and under the doctor.
I think that was the place where I glimpsed my first syphilitic chancre. When we had sex lessons at school and they showed colour photographs of people with venereal diseases (you can tell my school sex lessons were mostly about avoidance through fear) I recognised those weird open sore from years before at the Blackpool waxworks exhibition.
So I supposed that weird waxworks exhibition was educational in its way, although very dark – and definitely not the kind of waxworks you’d want to interact with.