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 because its official description was "Balloon Type B: Limp".
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. His pronouncements are often confused and childlike, and his phrasing often includes direct contradiction, as though the first part of a sentence of his did not know what it was leading to, with the conclusion being 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 govt. is marching over the edge of an abyss, and the nation must march solidly behind them."
Blimp was a satire on the reactionary opinions of the British establishment of the 1930s and 1940s, and was intended to portray all that Low, a New Zealander, disliked in British politics - the isolationism, the impatience with the concerns of common people, and the lack of enthusiasm for democracy. Although Low described him as "a symbol of stupidity", he added 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".
A more likeable version of Blimp appeared in the classic British film The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp starring Roger Livesey and Deborah Kerr. It was made in 1943, when the war was at its height, by Powell and Pressburger. The "Blimp" character was named Clive Candy and is not actually called "Blimp" other than in the title. Prime Minister Winston Churchill sought to ban the film due to its sympathetic presentation of a German officer (played by Anton Walbrook), albeit an anti-Nazi one, who is more down-to-earth and realistic than the central British character.
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"