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Dual identity?

12 May 2017


Clown: Tom Binns as Father Kenny, the hospital chaplain in BBC One’s mockumentary Hospital People

Clown: Tom Binns as Father Kenny, the hospital chaplain in BBC One’s mockumentary Hospital People

THAT here we have no abiding dwelling place, and that we hold dual citizenship not just of whatever nation our passport affirms, but of Heaven itself: these are commonplaces alike of Christian faith and homily. But, for millions of our sisters and brothers, the issue of what country they belong to, and whether they are really welcome in any nation on earth, is not a matter of religious piety but often life or death.

An expression of this reality was explored in British Jews, German Passports (BBC1, Tuesday of last week). The Brexit vote has impelled a number of our fellow-citizens to think that perhaps they’re not welcome here, and — in this particular case — consider whether to take up their option available by birthright of suing for dual British/German citizenship.

The twist is that they are all the children of German Jews who owe their lives to managing to escape from the Nazis to the UK, and were brought up to despise the land of their birth and embrace Britishness. The film followed three such: Baroness Neuberger; a Deputy Lieutenant of Hertfordshire, Robert Voss; and the agony aunt of The Jewish Chronicle, Hilary Freeman.

That in their comfortable position they should feel anxiety about what the future might hold — and, even more, that the moral leadership our country once achieved by its defiance of Hitler is now not merely eroded but, through the generous welcome to refugees afforded by Angela Merkel, passed over to Hitler’s own nation — is not something that should just give us pause, it should fill us with deepest shame.

The three guests’ parents’ generation were appalled that they could consider labelling themselves as German; their contemporaries understood exactly why they were at least exploring the option.

This was a film of journeys, of discovering roots, and daring to face up to the personal human face of the Holocaust. Is today’s Germany the same country that gassed their relations, or is it facing up more honestly to the darkest undercurrents of hatred and prejudice?

Britain’s Nuclear Bomb: The inside story (BBC4, Wednesday of last week) followed up on the aftermath of the war using classified records, film, and interviews. It was British science that theorised that atoms could be broken asunder, releasing unimaginable destructive power; and British scientists who played a vital part in developing the United States’ atom bombs that ended the war.

But, thereafter, the US refused all co-operation with Britain, and Clement Attlee determined that we must develop our own A-bomb to keep the balance between the US and the USSR: the only two nuclear powers at the time. We saw typical British expressions of pluck and make-do-and-mend, held together by sangfroid and self-deprecation. Of course, it was all successful.

The brave new world that we have built is skewered in Hospital People (BBC1, Fridays), a mockumentary about daily life in the NHS, whose unique selling point is that most of the roles are played by Tom Binns. It features an appalling hospital chaplain who plays the clown in hope of being loved, desperate to keep at bay his inner misery.

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