Published On: Wed, Jul 15th, 2020

The historical British attitude to wearing a covering over the face, as told by the cultural canon

Coming up at FBEL is a piece on mandatory wearing of face masks in shops and, unlike alternative media, what to do about it. But first, some entertainment – hopefully…


It’s the 1970s, when everyone watched the same TV programmes:

“Dad, I’m ‘ome. Where is that lazy little bleeder. Dad!” An old man comes scurrying out of the house. He’s wearing a surgical mask across his mouth, and through it asks “did yer get anything good?”

His son is wearing a look of bemusement on his face. “What are you doing?” he asks.

“Helping you take the stuff orf the cart, did yer get anything good, I asked yer”.

“Pater, what are you doing with that thing on your boat race?”

“Oh! Well, since I had that cold” – and as he says this, he lifts the mask with a grubby fingerless-gloved hand to wipe under his nose – “I’m wearing it for professional courtesy, so anyone coming into the yard doesn’t need to worry about catching anything – ‘ere, it’s good, ain’t it?” With that, he shoves his chin towards the younger Steptoe so that the mask can be examined.

“Don’t be ridiculous. You’ll make us look like I don’t wants you chewing the furniture – take it off. And besides, when it comes to offensiveness issuing from your pie-‘ole, what you need to mind is all those disgusting swear words”.


A social niceties skit from the Two Ronnies, featuring Barker and Corbett as two men having drinks:

Barker is wearing a large handkerchief tied around his head so that it covers his nose and mouth. Corbett is too polite to ask about the mask, and so he skirts the subject, asking questions that might lead indirectly to what he wants to know. Barker never bites. Corbett becomes impatient, until he can no longer help but say: “look, old chap, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m very curious to know why you are wearing a mask”.

Barker says: “really? Why on earth would you?”

Corbett: “Because all the guests are being made uncomfortable – you do know, don’t you, it’s not normal. We’re all a bit worried that you escaped from the lunatic asylum. I was despatched – as it were – to find out. Now, if you thought it was a fancy dress party and came as Dick Turpin, that would be understandable – although you do seem to have forgotten your mount!”

Barker: “no I didn’t”. He then lifts up his long coat and fetches a banana from between his legs, “it’s to stop germs getting in at the other end”.

Cue sketch wrap-up music by Ronnie Hazlehurst.


“Why aye, canny lad” says Terry, as Bob brings two pints of beer to the table. Being seated, Bob then pulls a knitted face mask out of his pocket.

“Don’t put that on in here, Ferris!” exclaims the other man.

“We’re not going to go through this again, Terry. There’s no benefit if I don’t wear this at least five hours a day. It’s the latest in karmic health techniques. Thelma got it highly recommended from the Disleys.”

“You and your dinner parties! They’re nothing but trouble. They’ve wreaked havoc with my standing in the community.”

“Your standing in the community? Where’s that, ten times a night at the urinal at the Fat Ox”.

“No, I’m talking about my having to bear the judgement of decent, unassuming folk who hate a show off”.

“Don’t be daft!”

“Who’s being daft? It reflects badly on me, it does, being with you when you’re experimenting with the latest attention-seeking new age fad brought to you by your new estate tennis club acquaintances. Well, wear it if you want, but when you get your face smashed in for being a provocative git, don’t expect me to help you out. I’ll take you doon the hospital, but that’s all”.


Arkwright comes running into the shop.

“Blimey” exclaims his nephew, “did you hear the cash register opening?”

“Ger-ger-ger-ger-Granville” he splutters, “that stock of medical nose and mouth masks – ger-get your skates on and fe-fe-fe-fetch them, will you? Don’t stand there ger-gawping. There’s been an explosion at the ca-ca-ca-ca-ca-carbolics factory, and the air is full of dangerous ch-chemicals which require filtration with the emergency application of said art-art-art-art-art… items”.


“Don’t look so terrified – an explosion there has been, but that air stuff is just what I’ve been telling everyone. There’s a huge crowd hot on my heels demanding what we have to supply”.

“But those articles you are referring to are not for filtering gases from exploding carbolic factories. They’re not even masks. They’re elastic chin strapped paper party hats”.

“This is no time for splitting hairs. In all that panic, no one’s ger-ger-ger-going to notice which way round they should go. We’ll make a k-killing.”


Terry Medford comes home from his work with the news that his boss is coming to dinner, and there’s a promotion in it.

“But you see, June”, he says to his wife, “he’s got this bee in his bonnet about an infectious disease going around, and he insists that we all wear medical masks!”

“Oh! Has he gone potty, dear?”


A man walks into a shop, wearing a headband with a plastic visor attachment that forms a screen over his face.

“‘Ello, I wish to register a complaint… ‘Ello, Miss?”

“We’re closin’ for lunch.”

“Never mind that, my lad. I wish to complain about the dead ‘amster what I purchased not half an hour ago from this very boutique…

“We don’t sell dead hamsters”.

“As I was saying, before I was interrupted, because the writers of this sketch aren’t very good joke tellers, and all the supposed humour is generated by an absurd situation necessitating two posh public school boys (whose bad regional accents are still patronising even when they’re meant to be ironic) to scream at each other, I wish to register a complaint about a dead ‘amster while wearing this entirely superfluous ‘ead garment.”

“Would it like a lovely fresh cuttle fish?”

Next… and into the Eighties:

It’s the end of a night watching TV at the house shared by four Scumbag College students, and the announcer’s signing-off advice extends into some surprising territory as it appears to address Vyvyan Basterd: “And don’t forget to wear a facemask”.


The announcer replies: “Because otherwise you will contract a hideous disease, you silly boy”.

“Great!” comes the response.

Some time passes as the increasingly impatient Vyvyan awaits the onset of various nasty symptoms. At last he comes to a realisation: “I’m never going to catch a plague. I think I’ll play ‘Murder in the Dark’”.


The Lord High Executioner has a problem:

“Young Ploppy here has a point, my lord. Lord Farrow never wore a bag. He was an old fashioned sort of gent.”


Well, that brings us to the end of today’s schedule. Good night, and don’t forget to switch off your set.

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  1. Ah the serendipty, i was just taking the piss out of our lot ((77 Bgd)) on LinkedIn with a reference to Dad’s Army and 4th Gen warfare!

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