2014-11-23

Bertila

Some weeks ago, I got an email from Marta, a lover of Barna Hedenhös, of which I blogged - oh my! - exactly one year ago! Must be some kind of benign sign... Anyway, this led to my discovery of a recent publication on the collected works of Barna Hedenhös´ creator, "Boken om Bertila", or Bertil Almqvist as was his full name, by Nisse Larsson. I immediately walked over to the library and got it, and what a revelation!

I was completely unaware that Bertila was the man behind one of the most iconic images in Swedish history: En Svensk Tiger. These words mean two things: A Swedish Tiger, and A Swede Keeps Silent. It was a variation on those many posters the Brits had, like this one. But because of the word play, it was also an affirmation of the strength of both the nation and its individuals during a time when they needed reassurance. A brilliant image, really, and the words that was part of it made it go beyond the visual. It is so ingrained in the nation´s conscience that it has been re-used for other purposes, like selling Swedish milk and Swedish magazines.

 A high ranking military man didn´t like the tiger, he thought it should have been a lion instead,
completely missing the point - a story Bertila enjoyed telling. 


Bertila´s column, with tall Prime Minister
Erlander as the father of the Swedish "folkhem"
(the Swedish Welfare State) with the leader of
the Farmer´s Party, Gunnar Hedlund, as his
supportive wife.
 You can see more columns here.
Bertil Almqvist was born in 1902, to a middle-class family in Stockholm. He got into drawing and writing funny verse already in school, and pretty much continued to do that for the rest of his life. He was perhaps not the most gifted visual artist of his time, but in combination with his word play, his output was unique. For many, many years, he published a weekly drawn and written column that commented on anything that was happening, from politics to sports and culture. It was called "På tapeten", which means literally "on the wallpaper" and means "the topic of the day". He made a sport of drawing the headline differently each week and in accordance with the topic.

He made all kinds of illustrations: theatre posters, children´s books, campaigns. And, of course, he wrote and drew "Barna Hedenhös": the books, the comics, the films. He died in 1972, while working hard on a film for Swedish Television about the Hedenhös children (he wasn´t just overworked, he was fond of his drink and his cigarettes, too, there is hardly a photo of him without a fag between his lips). He had by then been retired - quite forcibly - from his newspaper column, something that had made him so upset he even complained to the Prime Minister of Sweden! Perhaps he had lost touch with the times. When you look at his works they have very much that 50´s positivity, a stout belief in progress.

Mother Svea (Sweden) gives Bertila his uniform.
Word play was part of his game and the Swedish language started to change in the 70´s, as a new political and social awareness developed, as Swedes became more internationally aware, and society was being reshaped by immigration and the developement of modern media. Some of the Hedenhös books are no longer reproduced, considered racist and misogynist - which would have offended Bertila, who was a pacifist and a very outspoken advocate of equality and progress, both social, cultural, and technological. For example, he was a keen driver and fiercely lobbied for right-hand traffic for more than 30 years before it became a reality, in 1967. He also had strong convictions about spelling reforms. He did go into the army during the war, but reluctantly so, as he explained in comic form. He thought he could do more for the nation with his pen, and he did that as well, as you already know.

He also composed, which was a surprise to me. He wrote one of the most loved children´s songs in Swedish history, "Droppen Dripp och Droppen Drapp" (performed below by Alice Babs and her daughter Titti), and even recorded songs and put up a revue in 1934, where he sang his own songs in front of fifteen large drawings.

I only knew him for Barna Hedenhös, but I think now that his most lasting work will be "En svensk tiger" - even though perhaps that work has outgrown the memory of the man who created it.

(on Youtube by Tosukep)

Lyrics:

Droppen Dripp och Droppen Drapp    (the drop Drip and the drop Drap)
satt på varsin isetapp                         (sat each on his own icicle)
ovanför vår förstutrapp                      (above our landing)
Droppen Dripp och Droppen Drapp!   (the drop Drip and the drop Drap)

- Hej, sa Dripp till Droppen Drapp       (- Hi, said Drip to the drop Drap)
trivs du bra uppå din tapp?                 (are you happy on your icicle?)
- Åjavars, sa Droppen Drapp              (- Oh, allright I guess, said the drop Drap)
fast min sittplats är rätt knapp!            (although my seat is rather small.)

- Hördudu, sa Dripp till Drapp,            (- Hey listen, said Drip to Drap)
ska vi hoppa ner ikapp,                       (shall we race each other down,)
ner på våran förstutrapp?                    (on to our landing?)
Så sa Dripp till Droppen Drapp.           (That´s what Drip said to Drap the drop.)

- Hu, så högt! sa Droppen Drapp,         (- My, that´s high! said Drap the drop,)
såge helst jag hoppa slapp.                   (I wish I didn´t have to jump.)
- men det gör väl hipp som happ,          (but I guess it´s neither here nor there,)
låt oss hoppa ner i kapp!                      (let us race each other down.)

Och så hoppa Dripp och Drapp            (And then Drip and Drap jumped)
från sin isetapp ikapp,                          (from their icicles together)
ner på våran förstutrapp                      (down onto our landing)
- och blev platta som en knapp!            (and became flat like a button!)

(my own translation - quick and dirty)

Bertila with his daughter Monne Kristina, to whom he wrote the first Hedenhös book. 


2 comments:

  1. A thoughtful, multi-talented man with a sense of humor. I think I love him :)

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    Replies
    1. I know! I have a major crush on him too! ;-)

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