Asterix in Britain (1966)

Astérix chez les bretons

Presenting a thematic pretentious undercurrent…/Non-PC World…

Due, no doubt, to the historical love-hate relationship between France and Britain this adventure presents a for the most part unflattering critique of British culture as seen through French eyes. This centers particularly on British working practices – the Britons insist on taking their “hot-water breaks” and two days off at the weekend – and the perceived unpalatibility of British cuisine – Obelix in particular cannot stomach the Island’s boiled meat, warm beer and chilled red wine. Other jibes include Britain’s changeable climate and its stringent licensing laws. The satire is mostly at the expense of the English; but the Scottish and Irish are represented by the characters of McAnix and Overoptimistix.

(An original preface to the English edition would appear to invalidate everything I have written above. There Goscinny and Uderzo assured the British readership that they were skitting the popular French perceptions about Britain rather than the British themselves.) (Kessler)

Notable Nomenclature…

  • Mykingdomforanos: Rebel British chief.
  • Anticlimax: Asterix’s British first cousin once removed.
  • Tullius Stratocumulous: Roman Centurian.
  • Encyclopaedicus Brittannicus: Roman Governor
  • Dipsomaniax and Surtax: Pub landlords.

Continuity; lack-thereof and other gaffes…

  • First indication of French distaste of British cuisine (almost every page).
  • Following the usual numbering of British streets, the unattended cart thief should live opposite, instead of next to, Boadicea and her husband (p29).

Cleverness and Contemporaneity…

  • The Britons speak Gaulish but end their sentences with Britishisms such as “what”, “you know” or “old fruit” (begins p2).
  • Anticlimax recites the nonsensical sentence “It is smaller than the garden of my uncle, but it is larger than the pen of my aunt” that is a standby of British French lessons (p7).
  • Anticlimax refers to the – then ongoing – channel tunnel construction (p10).
  • Obelix complains that Anticlimax is driving on the wrong side of the road (p13).
  • Anticlimax vainly attempts to explain imperial measurements and coinage (p14).
  • A lone pilum-wielding Briton holds back the Roman invasion of his freshly-tended front lawn (p14).
  • A Beatles autograph-tour is replete with hysterical teenage girls (p14).
  • There is a number IV double-decker London bus, run by Londinium transport (p20).
  • A very basic ‘Tower of Londinium’ is already in place (p25).
  • A rugby game includes the modern accoutrements of mascots, score-boards, a (druidical) referee – and extreme violence (pp33-39).
  • Obelix is credited with introducing the game of Rugby Union to France (p34).
  • There has been a sportsmanlike exchange of shirts between decidedly mismatched adversaries (p38).
  • Cacofonix is allotted his usual space (p44).
  • Asterix is credited with introducing tea as the national drink of Britain (p44).

That Ghastly British Gastronomy in full…

  • Cups of hot water, with or without milk and sugar.
  • Boiled boar with mint sauce.
  • Warm beer.
  • Iced red wine.

Obelix has a tender side…

  • Responds to a challenge directed at ‘you two fatties’ by a double-sighted drunken legionary with the retort ‘There are not two fatties! There’s only one and he isn’t fat!’ (p21).
  • Having had one chilled-red-wine too many the fat man gives an overt demonstration of his devotion to Asterix where subtlety would be better (p23).

More Non-PC World…

When A, O & Anticlimax seemingly buy one cup of wine between three people, the landlord assumes they must be Caledonians (Scots).

Classic Pegleg…

O fortunatos nimium, sua si bona norint agricolas. = O farmers excessively fortunate if only they recognized their blessings! (Virgil, Georgics ii.458) (p1.) and later Fluctuat nec mergitur. = It is swayed by the waves but does not sink. (Motto of city of Paris.) (p44.)

Redbeard’s retort…

“You might tell us what that was instead of making silly jokes, young feller-me-lad!” (p1).

Good or What?

Very good indeed.

Not quite the best Asterix book – but probably the best ‘Asterix abroad’ one. I suspect Bell and Hockridge had a particularly large influence on the English version of this book, because there appear to be a lot of in-references – and the tone occasionally breaks from French vitriol into British self-deprecation.