Comic Relief Challenge day 2- Little Hitler

March 6, 2013

It’s Day 2 of my Comic Relief Challenge, wherein I try to raise £1986 for the charity. I’m proud to be part of Tracey Thorn’s #twittermillion team. We’re going to raise a million pounds! At least! And I’m going to do my part by listening to some EBTG tracks and learning from them.

Today’s choice was between two great ‘littles’; Ugly Little Dreams and Little Hitler. @Execcer chose Little Hitler. Hitler beats Frances, which, given the subject matter, is perhaps appropriately phrased.

Little Hitler is the closing track on Baby, The Stars Shine Bright. Like a lot of my favourite songs, from artists such as The Beautiful South or Jacques Brel, Elvis Costello or (at a push) The Jam, it’s a fierce song wrapped up in the most gorgeous of melodies. (Why ‘at a push for The Jam?’ Well, I guess it’s because sometimes they twist it around into a gorgeous song wrapped up in a fierce melody).

When Baby, The Stars Shine Bright came out in 1986, the 24 year old me would almost faint when, just over three minutes into Little Hitler, the big orchestral sound would be snatched away into a vacuum to be replaced by the gentler piano and bass. Have a listen and see if you too are overwhelmed by Stendhal Syndrome.

I’m hopeless at remembering lyrics or even understanding them. Some of my favourite Elvis Costello songs have been listened to for over 30 years and I still will have no idea what he means. But that’s ok. Music. Songs. To paraphrase Michael Haneke (who was, at the time, paraphrasing Truffaut) “if I wanted to send a message I’d have gone to the post office”.

So when I try to understand Little Hitler I think of it as being about the tyranny of men.

Not all men. Just men who have to be men.

In today’s guardian’s g2 Jane Martinson has written a piece about politician’s encouraging other politician’s to ‘man up’. Harriet Harman, whilst acknowledging the term as being sexist, urged David Cameron to ‘man up’ on a recent Andrew Marr show. She couldn’t think of an alternative. Jane Martinson thinks of an alternative; “Doing the right thing… is the most gender-neutral thing you can do.”

Little Hitler‘s men ‘man up’, yet do the wrong things.

Behind every big man there’s a small boy/ Drink to Stalin and Hitler and Jimmy Boyle

It’s an interesting move, linking Jimmy Boyle to Hitler and Stalin, and one I’m still trying to understand.*

Jimmy Boyle, the Glasgow hard man, the killer, the man who was sent to jail for murder. He spent time in H.M. Prison Barlinnie special unit (now no longer in operation); a centre putting rehabilitation, over punishment, at it’s heart. He was given a pair of scissors by a warden who then turned away from him. And Jimmy Boyle didn’t stab him. This was a move in the right direction.

The first verse of Little Hitler could be about Jimmy Boyle:

Little Hitler, don’t come round here again/ With your renegade politics, redder-than-thou-disdain/ Thought we were on the same side/ But with a fistful of nails and your knives from the Clyde

The song came out in 1986. At that time Jimmy Boyle was out of prison and a reformed character. He ran an art gallery called The Gateway Exchange in Edinburgh, aimed at helping drug addicts and, I would hope, anyone finding themselves troubled enough to want to change their life for the better.

I know this because in 1985 I met Jimmy Boyle. We were doing a show at the Edinburgh Festival, and our venue was The Gateway Exchange. Here we are:


Who do we think we are? The Kray Twins?

We were young and we were foolish. I’m still one of those things. I’d read Jimmy Boyle’s books,  A sense of Freedom and The Pain of Confinement: Prison Diaries. I was surprised when The Gateway Exchange gave us permission to perform at the venue and I was terrified about meeting Jimmy Boyle.

All was fine though. He was polite and charming. Every evening, when we trooped up to the venue for our performance, Jimmy would be standing outside. He said he liked being outside.

I can’t remember much of our time there. We did a show with Simon Bligh and Fred n’ Ginger (Anne Rabbit and Doon Mackichan).

Jimmy Boyle was very much the ‘man’ there, but he also had a team of helpers, one of whom went on to achieve some notoriety by getting crucified, without painkillers, in the Philippines. Perhaps this act relates a little to the ‘fistful of nails’. That man was the self-proclaimed dandy Sebastien Horsley who died from a cocaine and heroin overdose in 2010. We also met Sebastien’s then wife, Evelynn Smith. She was lovely, and I was saddened today to learn that she died from an aneurysm in 2003.

Here we all are, Jimmy Boyle on the left, then Sebastien, Anne, Simon, Evelynn… and I’m sorry to say I cannot remember the names of the next two… then me and then Trev.


And I must apologise to the woman who’s hair I am holding up. You are clearly uncomfortable with my foolishness. All I can remember is that I liked you, and, for someone incapable of expressing that at the time, I chose, instead, to lift up your hair. Sorry.

And if you’re heartless and hard/ Well this has made you what you are

At the age of 14 Jimmy Boyle stole a cash box at a fun fair and was sent to a school run by the De La Salle brothers ( a Catholic order of monks). in 2001 Jimmy said; “Today, I’m still haunted by the sound of breaking bones as a monk deliberately smashed a child’s leg to smithereens or the footsteps in the night that heralded yet another horrific rape of a terrified, crying child.”


Little Hitlers.

Do I understand it? No.

Does it matter? I’m not sure.

Do I like it? I love it.

Here it is.

if you would like, or are able, to give to Comic Relief you can find my sponsor page here.

* Tracey let me know, through Twitter, that the song is not about Jimmy Boyle but about a bully she met who idealised him.


3 Responses to “Comic Relief Challenge day 2- Little Hitler”

  1. Charlotte said

    Wow. I was expecting something silly or flippant (and would have loved that) but this is beautifully written. Thank you.

  2. Tony Jones said

    Donated to this cause mainly because of my love and respect of Tracey Thorn (and Ben of course) and the fond memories I have of “Baby The Stars Shine Bright” but have been pleasantly surprised at the intelligence and humour of Simon Hickson’s article, a really enjoyable read. I really do hope you reach your target.

  3. Colin Brown said

    “We were young and we were foolish.” Older, but still foolish. Keep writing.

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