Peter Rhodes on a great whodunnit, political friends and the words of a good man

Mea culpa. In yesterday's item on the possibility of post-pandemic rip-offs, I described a pub supper but failed to mention the price. It was £10.60 which I'm pretty sure is about what it cost this time last year.

Sanjeev Bhaskar and Nicola Walker in Unforgotten
Sanjeev Bhaskar and Nicola Walker in Unforgotten

One horrible, damning phrase runs through the scandal about the lack of war graves and memorials to black and Asian soldiers who fought for Britain in the First World War. In 1923 the Governor of the Gold Coast, F G Guggisberg, said: "The average native of the Gold Coast would not understand or appreciate a headstone."

How unkind it sounds, how dismissive and racist. Guggisberg's words have been repeated by an apologetic Commonwealth War Graves Commission, by politicians and journalists as evidence of “pervasive racism.” Yet something doesn't ring true.

Brigadier Sir Frederick Gordon Guggisberg (1869-1930), war hero, engineer, author and Christian, was a fine man, a Canadian-born diplomat who devoted his life to colonial service. He had great faith in local people and he loved Africa. More to the point, Africa loved him.

In 1974, long after his death, the post-colonial government in Ghana erected a statue of him in Accra. Earlier, Gold Coast chiefs had placed a memorial over his grave. These were rare honours in appreciation of what he had done for their country in terms of education, welfare, agriculture, hospitals and trade. His lifelong policy was, as Wikipedia tells us: “The development of the country by and for the natives rather than for the benefit of European capitalists.”

When the Imperial War Graves Commission sought Guggisberg's advice in 1923 on the issue of war memorials and graves, he drew on his knowledge of African funeral customs in which, as he pointed out, headstones played no part. Far from spouting racism, I suspect this enlightened servant of the Empire was bringing cultural awareness to the debate.

But when the cry of racism goes up 100 years later, who bothers with the details? How easy it is to interpret his words to suit today's agenda and make a good man look bad.

When plotters fall out. The rift between Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings is a reminder of an old rule of politics. Beware of your enemies but be twice as wary of your friends, because they know where the bodies are buried.

Talking of old stiffs, I've been binge-watching the simply splendid Unforgotten (ITV). The cold-case whodunnit starring Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Bhaskar ran from 2015-21 and for my money, it's better than the Beeb's big-hitter, Line of Duty.

So why does LoD get all the headlines? Why do some telly events come to dominate the media with almost cult-like status while others don't? Everyone has heard of LoD creator Jed Mercurio but who knows the name of the creator and writer of Unforgotten? Chris Lang.

What's more, Unforgotten can expand your vocabulary. Did you know a body that turns into a soapy substance through long contact with water is saponified? Me neither.

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