Colonel Blimp is a British cartoon character by cartoonist David Low, first drawn for Lord Beaverbrook's London Evening Standard in the 1930s. Blimp is pompous, irascible, jingoistic and stereotypically British. Low developed the character after overhearing two military men in a Turkish bath declare that cavalry officers should be entitled to wear their spurs inside tanks. The character was named after the barrage balloon, which was known as a blimp.
Blimp issues proclamations from the Turkish bath, wrapped in his towel and brandishing some mundane weapon to emphasize his passion on some issue of current affairs. Red faced with rage and emotion, his pronouncements are often confused and childlike. Blimp's phrasing often includes direct contradiction, as though upon starting the sentence he did not know where the sentence was going. His opening words were always a part of an emotional catchphrase. For instance: "Gad, Sir! Mr Lansbury is right. The League of Nations should insist on peace — except of course in the case of war.", or: "Gad, Sir! Lord Bunk is right. The government is marching over the edge of an abyss, and the nation must march solidly behind them." In an effort to poke fun at himself, Blimp is usually depicted speaking to a cartoon version of David Low, the cartoon's creator, and Blimp's comments are not infrequently directed at the opinions of Lord Beaverbrook, the owner of the newspaper the cartoon appeared in.
Blimp was a satire on the reactionary opinions of the British establishment of the 1930s and 1940s. The cartoon was intended to portray attitudes of isolationism, impatience with the concerns of common people, and a lack of enthusiasm for democracy. These were attitudes which Low, a New Zealander, saw as being common in British politics. Although Low described his character Blimp as "a symbol of stupidity", he softened the jab at the British ruling class by adding that "stupid people are quite nice".
The character has survived in the form of a clichéd phrase – highly reactionary opinions are characterised as "Colonel Blimp" statements.
George Orwell and Tom Wintringham made especially extensive use of the term "Blimps" to refer to this type of military officer, Orwell in his articles and Wintringham in his books How to Reform the Army and People's War. In his 1941 essay "The Lion and the Unicorn", Orwell referred to two important sub-sections of the middle class, one of which was the military and imperialistic middle class, nicknamed the Blimps, and characterised by the "half-pay (i.e retired) colonel with his bull neck and diminutive brain". He added that they had been losing their vitality over the past thirty years, "writhing impotently under the changes that were happening".
In 1943 Powell and Pressburger wrote, produced and directed a film titled The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. Shot in the midst of the war, the film portrayed an admirable British officer named Clive Candy as he moved through his life and career. The story encouraged the audience to accept that though the officer was honorable, with time his opinions had become dated, and that the necessity of winning in modern warfare required accepting conducting the war through irregular means. The classic British film starred Roger Livesey and Deborah Kerr. The "Blimp" character was not actually called "Blimp" other than in the title. Although the film had an anti-Nazi storyline, the film's sympathetic presentation of a German officer, played by Anton Walbrook, caused Prime Minister Winston Churchill to seek to ban the film. This did not occur.
The term continues to be referenced from time to time. In a 2006 book, historian Christopher Clark used the term "blimpish" to characterise the Prussian Field Marshal Mollendorf who distinguished himself as an officer in the Seven Years' War but whose conservatism and opposition to military reform was considered to have contributed to Prussia's defeat in the Battle of Jena. In his review of Garner's Modern American Usage, David Foster Wallace referred to the "Colonel Blimp's rage" of Prescriptivist journalists like William Safire.
"The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen", which lets numerous literary characters interact with each other, includes Horatio Blimp as an overconfident major in the British army who leads the initial strike against the Martians of H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds".
- "Century's 'best cartoonist' on show". BBC News. May 8, 2002. Retrieved March 28, 2010.
- David Low biography, UK: Cartoons.
- Orwell, George (1941-04-15). "London Letter". Partisan Review. "The Home Guard is (…) an astonishing phenomenon, a sort of People's Army officered by Blimps."
- Orwell, Sonia and Angus, Ian (eds.) The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell Volume 2: My Country Right or Left, (London, Penguin)
- Christopher Clark, Iron Kingdom. The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600–1947, London: Penguin, 2006, pp. 124–25
- Wallace, David Foster (April 2001). "Tense Present: Democracy, English, and the Wars over Usage". Harper's Magazine. "...certain journalists whose bemused irony often masks a Colonel Blimp's rage"