I was channel hopping the other day and happened across a re-run of “On the Busses” follow the link if you’re too young to remember the show, or it never aired in your part of the world. Like a lot of comedy of its time it was very peculiarly English in its humour and has dated to the extent that it’s unwatchable except as a TV curio. It’s even gone past the point where I can get nostalgic about being sent to bed before it came on because it was too risquÃ©.
What got me thinking was not the music hall performances and jokes, or the bawdy, single-dimensional humour and even shallower characters, but the uniforms. I can just remember when bus drivers wore uniforms, not just black trousers and a corporate blue shirt, but full uniforms. Polished buttons peaked caps, the works. Same for the police, they still have a dress uniform, but that is incompatible with their role as a modern police force. It’s knife vests and utility belts replacing the jackets and truncheons.
I actually rather miss the uniforms, you knew if someone had a uniform they should be listened too, had some authority. There’s a classic Radio Times cover from the 80s, the week they first showed the apocalyptic drama “Threads“, based on the effects of a nuclear attack on a British city. It was a still of a man carrying an army issue SLR against a chain link fence, his face was bandaged and he wore a uniform. He was keeping some of the survivors of the attack penned up in a stockade. He wasn’t a soldier, he was a traffic warden, even the most hated pavement-pounders in England were seen as authority figures were society to break down.
So what’s the point of this semi-maudlin walk down memory lane? Well, there’s always been a fascination in this country with uniforms, maybe it’s elsewhere in the world too. In the UK it seems to be a very strong fascination with what lies beneath. Is that starched shirt and tightly buttoned tunic holding in a wanton sex maniac? Is that hair, so tightly pinned into a bun on matron’s head concealing a matchless passion that once unleashed would consume any man in its path?
It’s a fascination/fetish that’s reinforced by films and the media, though over time the way in which it has been portrayed has changed according to the decade. Looking back just after WWII uniforms were ubiquitous, police, fire fighters, ambulance drivers, nurses, traffic wardens, bus drivers, bus conductors, bus inspectors, doormen the list goes on.
The horrors of the first world war began the ascendancy of the power of the working man, but did not shatter the structure of British society. The hell of the trenches, the mud, disease and death meant the survivors refused to be subservient to the traditional ruling classes. It did not however lead to revolution as in Russia or the desperation that drove the German people to embrace National Socialism. The order of society evolved rather than collapsed and authority figures remained. Granted the lampooning of authority thrived as it has done throughout English history, but it acted as a safety valve preventing calamitous changes.
The second world war finished the process that the 1914-18 war had started. Now it was open season on authority figures. I’m not going to drone on about the undermining of traditional values, because some traditional values were complete rubbish, no, this is where I return to my original thoughts about uniforms.
The “Carry On” films, The Goons, Python and satirical humour in the printed media and on TV all slowly undermined the authority of uniformed figures. Almost without exception they did it by one of two means. Depicting uniformed figures as objects of ridicule (because they were stupid, pompous or out-dated e.g. The Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp Powell/Pressberger 1943) or making them into sex objects.
We’re now at the stage were uniforms mean something different than they did 50 years ago. You can now buy a uniform to go to a party as a naughty nurse or a WPC. You can buy it in rubber if you like. Military style latex couture is both fashionable and widely available on the web.
Our attitude towards uniforms is a blend of the comic and a sense that by say, having sex with that WPC you are somehow breaking out from the confinement that society places upon us all. Maybe you have a thing for black leather trousers, boots, long coats and riding crops? Is it that you want to be dominated, oppressed and shown no mercy? Or is it just a bit of fun?
When a uniform forms part of a Scene in sexual play it can be a powerful totem, a visual shorthand for each participant’s role and a sensual augmentation during the scene. Whether it’s leather rubber, or PVC a uniform can become a necessary and integral part of the Scene.
Well it’s late and I’m knackered but if any of you have thoughts on this I’d be very interested to hear them.