Mr Wu no longer has a laundry … by Mal Content.

Pondering the controversy over ‘patriotic’ songs:

‘Land of hope and glory’ is an awful dirge and anyone who claims this as part of their culture is a bit of a muppet. ‘Rule Brittania’ is only slightly more interesting, part of a long-forgotten opera about King Alfred the great, who founded the British navy. Its political message is against Scottish secession, as one who thinks Wessex should never have gone into England, I disagree.

Some years ago, for reasons that escape me now, the BBC invited the public to nominate tunes that summed up “Englishness”, or may be it was “Britishness”, I forget. My submission was ‘Mr Wu’s a Window Cleaner Now’ by the late George Formby. Formby’s irrepressible character sums up the values commonly espoused by the English Working Class: irreverent, gregarious, hard-working, resourceful, he’s never going to give up. He also represents the diverse ethnic make up of our class, even in Formby’s day.

There is a sub-text that illuminates the dark side of Englishness. Aggressively Working Class entertainer Formby, who managed to get himself deported from South Africa for defying racial segregation (it was actually Beryl Formby who told the National Party leader to “piss off”) nevertheless manages to reproduce the racial stereotypes of his day. The cheeky, womanising Mr Wu is simultaneously “one of us” and “the other”.

A real-life Mr Wu would have lived through the ‘yellow peril’ era of the early Twentieth Century, like his Jewish and Irish neighbours in the East End he would have had to take care of himself extremely well just to hold his ground. He’s still in Limehouse in 1942, when he crops up as an air-raid warden, so undoubtedly he would have fought at Cable Street in 1936, against the cops, against the law. By 1944 he’s a fighter pilot.

Maybe he went to Spain?

“He used to iron jackets,

now he’s shooting fascists,

cos’ Mr Wu’s a Brigadista now”

Or something. Next time you’re feeling ‘patriotic’ big up Mr Wu, East End Working Class hero.

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