Back in 1993, I worked on a film with the curious title of “The Hour of the Pig”, although upon release by Miramax in the USA, it was renamed “The Advocate”. This BBC co-production starred some of Britain’s finest actors, with Colin Firth, Nicol Williamson, Ian Holm and the late Donald Pleasance appearing in lead roles, so as to bring to convincing life one of the most truly bizarre episodes in history.
The story was based upon an event in the life of Bartholomew Chassenee, a man who went on to become the most brilliant criminal lawyer of his time, but who was once forced to defend animals such as pigs against accusations of murder and Devil worship in 16th century France. I had read about these episodes before, but as we discussed the subject matter of the film on the set at Ealing Studios, it was as if these demented courtroom proceedings owed more to folklore than to history. The idea of an animal, rather than a human being, ending up ‘in the dock’, seemed to be the product of a madman’s imagination rather than being an accurate chronicle of the times.
And so it is that I regard the recent and very literal ‘demonisation’ of the British fox with utter incredulity. Otherwise sane newspaper editors have despatched minions to search for pictures of a ferocious fox in their archive, but the best they’ve managed is one of a fox patently yawning, rather than baring its lethal fangs as a primaeval warning to any humans who dare cross its path. I’ve seen another of a cub sat on the grass, looking not particularly interested in anything very much, despite the apparent ‘fact’ that a dead hen or pheasant has been unconvincingly photo-shopped into the picture, just a few inches away.
These grotesque attempts at demonising the fox carry almost exact echoes of the grim reign of Matthew Hopkins, Britain’s notorious Witchfinder General of the Civil War years, who would parade demented old women in courtrooms and browbeat those present into believing that the emaciated, beaten spinsters were in fact Agents of Satan Himself, to be despatched the rope’s end with no mercy or clemency shown. Even that, however, pales into insignificance beside a recent feature on a website run & maintained by the BBC, the same corporation that made “The Hour of the Pig”.
Crimewatch is a series that’s been running on television for over a quarter of a century and its stated aim is to make the British public aware of particularly serious crimes, as well as asking for assistance in solving them and catching the perpetrators. Over the years, the blood-soaked annals of Crimewatch have exposed us to countless beatings, rapes, shootings, stabbings, bludgeonings, stranglings, poisonings, acid attacks and horrific offences against children, criminal acts committed by the very worst specimens of humanity that our island has thrown up in recent times. Yet now, alongside the requests for assistance in catching rapists, serial killers, armed robbers and sex offenders, the producers of Crimewatch have decided to place…..the fox.
To quote one of the show’s hosts, “Don’t have nightmares”, but we’re still invited to decide if we want to cull these creatures and to vote accordingly, while the same tactic was adopted a few days ago by a leading British tabloid newspaper, although the editorial staff were presumably taken aback when their loyal army of readers declined to take the bait and voted NO to the cull in overwhelming numbers. On the subject of overwhelming numbers, it apparently took seven hundred hours of Parliamentary time to ban hunting foxes with hounds, but with our exciting advances in modern technology, no further debate or rumination is required, because we can pass now a death sentence upon a species with the click of a computer mouse, in something like seven-tenths of a second.
God only knows what the rest of the world makes of all this. While other civilised nations are trying to educate and feed their citizens, impose the rule of law and reconcile warring factions, 25% of the British population are hell-bent on trying legalise the ripping apart of a living creature with dogs as a social activity, while otherwise level-headed media outlets are doing their damnedest to try to persuade us all that a stunningly beautiful native British mammal is in fact a physical incarnation of evil, sent to wreak havoc by the Devil Himself.
“When the stars threw down their spears
And watered Heaven with their tears,
Did He smile, His work to see?
Did He who made the Lamb, make thee?”