Hitler Has Only Got One Ball
|"Hitler Has Only Got One Ball"|
|Written||c. August 1939|
|Composer||Lieutenant F. J. Ricketts
(Colonel Bogey March)
|Lyricist||Uncertain; attributed to Toby O'Brien|
"Hitler Has Only Got One Ball" is a British song that mocks Nazi leaders using blue comedy in reference to their testicles. Multiple variants of the lyrics exist, generally sung as four-line verses to the tune of the "Colonel Bogey March".
Origin of the song
In his autobiography Fringe Benefits, writer Donough O'Brien says his father, Toby O'Brien, wrote the original in August 1939 as British propaganda. Toby O'Brien was a publicist for the British Council at the time. This version started with the words "Göring has only got one ball", a reference to Göring's grievous groin wound suffered during the Beer Hall Putsch, and went on to imply that Hitler had two small ones. In virtually all later versions, the positions are reversed. The statement that Himmler was "sim'lar" appears in all versions. The final line of this original and some later forms ends with the word play that Goebbels had "no balls". Both these variations argue strongly in favour of O'Brien's version's being a very early version, and a Daily Mail report of the time states that it was "attributed to someone not unconnected with our old friend the British Council".
O'Brien's claims have not been substantiated, and no author has ever been identified for the more popular versions that begin "Hitler has only got one ball". Hubert Gregg also claimed to have written the lyrics, which he said he sent anonymously to the British War Office. There is no known attempt by anyone to claim or enforce a copyright on the lyrics. It is listed in the Roud Folk Song Index, number 10493.
The numerous versions, including the frankly obscene, reflect the enthusiasm with which it was first adopted as a British Army marching-song, then as a popular song of defiance against Adolf Hitler's Nazi-German regime in the other branches of the British armed forces, and amongst British civilians, from 1940 onwards. In the words of Greg Kelley,
As a means of ridiculing the Nazis, “Hitler Has Only Got One Ball” became immensely popular among Allied troops, who in transmitting this song were exercising something of a wartime convention by demeaning the sexual faculties of enemy leaders. But the mockery extended beyond just the Nazis’ sexual capacities. Since the 1920s, the words balls or ballsy had come to denote notions of courage, nerve, or fortitude. In that sense, defective testicles rendered the Nazis defective soldiers. This song’s itemized taxonomy of malformed German genitalia—the monorchid, the micro-orchid, the anorchid—was particularly forceful, and satisfying, to Allied soldiers in that it scattered satiric buckshot across the whole Nazi high command (Hitler; Hermann Göring, commander in chief of the Luftwaffe; Heinrich Himmler, Reichsführer of the SS; and Goebbels, Reich minister of propaganda).
It has been suggested that the pre-Glasnost Soviet descriptions of what remained of Hitler's corpse reported his monorchism (having only one functional testicle) at the suggestion of Guy Burgess and/or Kim Philby, as part of their making a joke, based on this song, that they could expect the British population and secret services, if not those of the US or USSR, would get.
Whatever the reason for Hitler's alleged monorchism becoming a popular myth, there was psychodynamic literature, produced outside the USSR after World War II, which sought to explain his personality and behaviour, as a charismatic, genocidal megalomaniac, which drew on his alleged congenital "semi-castration" and/or the child-rearing practices of his family.
The melody used for "Hitler Has Only Got One Ball" is the "Colonel Bogey March", recorded here by the United States Navy Band.
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All versions are sung to the tune of The Colonel Bogey March. O'Brien's version of the song runs:
- Göring has only got one ball
- Hitler's [are] so very small
- Himmler's so very similar
- And Goebbels has no balls at all
Popular alterations have been made to the lines in this version, most of them apparently for the purpose of better fitting the "Colonel Bogey" rhythm. A common version swaps the names in the first two lines and improves the scansion of the final line:
- Hitler has only got one ball,
- Göring has two but very small,
- Himmler has something sim'lar,
- But poor old Goebbels has no balls at all.
Outside of the United Kingdom, the second line is often sung as "the other is on the kitchen wall" or another location. Some areas of the United Kingdom alter the second line to feature local buildings, such as the Albert Hall. Where Australian troops had served in North Africa, Rommel took the place of Göring in the second line. One variant reflects the respect in which Rommel was held by British soldiers during the war, describing him as having "four or five" balls.
In other media
The song has frequently been heard and seen in other media:
- The lyrics were sung in the 1972 film adaptation of the John Knowles novel A Separate Peace (although they are not in the book, and the tune to which they are sung in the film is not the "Colonel Bogey March").
- In the 1972 film Our Miss Fred, the protagonist, a British Army entertainer and drag artist, finds himself behind enemy lines and inadvertently sings the song to a group of senior German Army officers. When challenged as to the meaning of the lyrics, he convinces them that they are a reference to the tennis-playing skills of Hitler and his ministers.
- Bette Midler sang the song in the 1980 filmed version of her show, Divine Madness.
- The lyrics were not sung during the famous Colonel Bogey March sequence in the 1957 film The Bridge on the River Kwai (as opposed to the melody being heard) because they were considered to be too vulgar.
- Thomas Pynchon quoted the words in his novel V., putting them in the mouths of British artillerymen on Malta.
- In the Vertigo DC Comics miniseries Adventures in the Rifle Brigade by Garth Ennis and Carlos Ezquerra, an "Operation Bollock" storyline describes a mission to retrieve Adolf Hitler's missing testicle as a central plot device.
- The song is sung by Donald Moffat in the 1996 film The Evening Star (a sequel to 1983's Oscar-winning Terms of Endearment).
- It also appears in the 2009 movie John Rabe, set in Nanking, China, in 1937. The German, Rabe (played by Ulrich Tukur), and an American doctor, Robert O. Wilson (Steve Buscemi), get drunk one night and share their mutual antipathy to the Nazi regime by singing it together.
- A variant of the song is sung in the 2001 movie Dark Blue World by the British pilots teaching the lyrics to Czech pilots.
- The song is sung in Ken Lee's musical revue Happy as a Sandbag.
- Sketch comedy programme The Armstrong and Miller Show dramatised an (entirely fictional) process of writing the song.
- In the British television sitcom 'Allo 'Allo! (series 3, episode 6), the song is sung in part by the German Captain Hans Geering (Sam Kelly), who is posing as a British prisoner of war. Later the other prisoners whistle the tune, as in The Bridge on the River Kwai.
- In the British TV comedy drama series Goodnight Sweetheart (series 5, episode 7), a version in German is sung by actor Peter Czajowski in the role of a Gestapo officer.
- In the wartime murder mystery novel 'Presumption of Death' (Sayers and Paton-Walsh) when an air-raid goes on a long time the vicar encourages a sing-along. The best choirboy begins with 'Abide with me' and is cut off by the vicar's wife, who suggests he sing something cheerful, anything! The boy sings 'Hitler has only got one ball...' to the entertainment of all.
- Greg Kelley, "Colonel Bogey’s March through Folk and Popular Culture" in Warrior Ways: Explorations in Modern Military Folklore, Utah State University Press, 2012, p.208
- Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil - Ron Rosenbaum - Google Books. Books.google.co.uk. Retrieved 2014-04-23.
- Anthony Hopkins' "Songs from the Front & Rear" Hurtig Publishers, Edmonton; 1979 pg 186
- on YouTube. Scene from the movie John Rabe (1:18 min)
- YouTube: on YouTube. The Armstrong and Miller Show (4:17 min)
- The Colonel Bogey March MIDI file
- Did Hitler have only one testicle? from The Straight Dope
- A British Soldier Remembers, songs and lyrics of World War II
- Weebls Stuff: On The Moon 2 Reference to Hitler's missing left testicle
- NY Times: Insane or Just Evil? A Psychiatrist Takes a New Look at Hitler