♪ I Feel Pretty, Oh So Pretty... ♫
British Satirist’s Demeaning Mossadegh Mockery (1951)
British Satirist’s Demeaning Mossadegh Mockery (1951)
Back in the politically-incorrect 1950’s, most Western media coverage of Premier Mossadegh made a point of drawing attention to his physical appearance and mannerisms. And while that may not have been a particularly pertinent issue for serious journalists to fixate upon, it was certainly fair game for comedians.
Enter Nathaniel Gubbins (1893-1976), a famous British humorist who pulled no punches in his searing comedic depictions of the elderly Iranian leader. In late 1951, Gubbins, who repeatedly harped on Mossadegh’s putative unattractiveness, took this jibe to its outer limits, conjuring inane animal doppelgangers and gender-bending reveries.
It’d be easier to dismiss all this if not for the fact that in his day, Gubbins was one of the most popular columnists in all of Britain. His newspaper column, Sitting on the Fence, had appeared weekly in the Sunday Express of London for over 20 years, enjoyed by chimney sweeps and prime ministers alike (Even Winston Churchill was a fan).
“Nat Gubbins speaks for the British man-in-the-street better than the British man-in-the-street can speak for himself”, wrote TIME in 1943. A 1940 advert summed up his abilities thusly — “Nothing is safe from his wit: neither your feelings nor his failings. Through your sense of humour he attacks your weaknesses, your dignity, your self-importance.”
By this time, Dr. Mossadegh should have been well accustomed to assaults on his dignity. Purportedly ‘serious’ Anglo-American onlookers took the liberty of comparing his mug with a horse, vulture, lizard, hawk, turtle and other assorted wildlife. To match wits, Gubbins would need to ‘plumb the depths of bad taste’, as they say in Merry Ol’ England, land of the tawdry tabloid...
Is Dr. Mossadeg a parrot, a sheep, a man or a woman?
When I first saw his photograph I thought he was a parrot. In another picture published last week showing him talking to the American Ambassador to Persia his profile looked so much like a sheep’s profile that I could almost hear him saying “Baa.”
Then cold reason, which always spoils my day dreams, told me that he couldn’t be a parrot, because his beak doesn’t curve completely under his chin. Nor is it composed of horn, so far as I know.
A news item stating that his favourite dish is grilled mutton with rice put paid to the sheep theory, too, unless he is a cannibal sheep.
So, for a while, I thought he must be a man after all, despite his unfortunate appearance.
You could have knocked me down with a steam hammer when the truth dawned at last.
Who but a woman would go to bed with a headache when an argument was lost?
Who but a woman could have gained so much with tears?
Clever little Miss (or Mrs.) Mossadeg may have deceived Mr. Morrison about her sex, but she won’t fool American reporters when she arrives in New York. [British Foreign Secretary Herbert Morrison]
When the truth is told she’ll be feted. She will be offered American citizenship, and if she doesn’t end up as a fan dancer or as an anti-British columnist working for Private 2nd Class McCormick, owner of the Chicago Tribune, [Col. Robert R. McCormick, editor and publisher] she’ll be sent over here as the first American woman ambassador to Britain.
Which will make the Foreign Office look pretty silly.
Probably you did not believe it when your Uncle Nat told you that Mr. Mossadeg is a woman disguised as the Persian Prime Minister.
Here, to prove the point, are extracts from American newspaper reports, during Mossadeg’s visit to the United States.
“Dr. Mossadeg was a flop on television . . . Later that evening he was found weeping in his hospital bed.”
“Doctors at the hospital examined Mossadeg and found him in pretty good shape.”
“Mossadeg likes America and was all smiles when he was guest of honour at a Washington lunch . . . He has quit weeping.”
“Mossadeg has ignored the Shah’s orders to return home.”
“Mossadeg’s observations in Washington were so obscure that officials had no idea what he was taking about.”
“When asked if the door for negotiations with the British was still open, Mossadeg said he had never seen the door.”
This is an obvious case of a girl who has run away from an unhappy home, where she was bullied by nasty men, and has refused to return.
She thought she was going to be a star on American television, was a flop, and went home to cry, as many a girl would do.
Because nobody took much notice of her, she pretended to be ill, but when they made a fuss of her in Washington she was all smiles.
As the poor little thing knows nothing about oil, and probably cares less, she tried to bluff it out with some meaningless remarks, hoping a kind-hearted official would say “Don’t worry your pretty head about it any more, Sugar. What about lunch, huh?”
But, as her head is not very pretty, nobody said it. So what is her next move?
She stalls for time with dumb blonde answers.
“Is the door still open?”
“Door?” Whatever do you mean. I ain’t seen no door.”
I hope they will treat her kindly when she gets home. She is a problem girl who needs a lot of patience and understanding.
• The preceding were excerpts, not the entire columns.
• The “extracts” from U.S. newspapers Gubbins supposedly quoted in his Dec. 5th column are not real, he made them up.
• Nathaniel Gubbins (also known as Norman Gubbins) was described in a March 8, 1943 TIME magazine profile as “a 50-year-old, pink-faced fellow who looks like a shy insurance agent whose feet hurt.”
• The top image of a parrot is from a woodcut apparently illustrated by Lucas Schan, from the seminal Historia animalium by the brilliant Swiss naturalist, physician, bibliographer, philologist, botanist Conrad Gessner (1516–1565).
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