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Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain, the Village Hall, Cropwell Bishop – ‘riotously funny’

Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain at the Village Hall, Cropwell Bishop, Nottinghamshire. Photo: Lidia Crisafulli Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain at the Village Hall, Cropwell Bishop, Nottinghamshire. Photo: Lidia Crisafulli
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This glorious crash course on Britishness, drawn from the wartime pamphlet for GIs issued by the United States Office of War Information, does more than the advertised tickling of the ribs. It induces a helpless laughter that almost incapacitates the audience, who for the purposes of the comedy are the servicemen being addressed. For the hapless ones – myself included – singled out for attention by the towering, eyeball-swivelling officer in charge, it’s an unforgettable experience.

Fol Espoir and the sketch-comedy trio of the Real MacGuffins (Dan March, Jim Millard and Matt Sheahan) have their roots in the Edinburgh Fringe. They’re wholly idiotic. The show was partly developed in a village hall in a village community and here are all the delicious quirks and eccentricities of English life, from the struggle to pronounce Thames and Worcestershire to the class differences exposed by the designation of dinner, supper or lunch and the rules of cricket. Don’t flash the cash, the GIs are warned, and above all, don’t criticise the warm beer.

The convoluted lecture on British currency – from the frightfully English officer wearing shorts because it’s Sunday and his uniform is in the wash – is a comic highlight. So is afternoon tea from the trolley. And then there’s the Nazi spy school, where teaching on the stiff upper lip includes hints to look down the nose for added condescension. It gathers pace to an energetic, on-your-feet conclusion that brings tears to the eyes, and the audience is still laughing on the way out.

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A tender snapshot of wartime Britain – fast-paced, affectionate, authentic and wildly funny