The Journalist who loved Spelling Mistakes
...Humour in the Norwegian Resistance
Mention humour, and the Norwegian resistance movement in the Second World War doesn’t immediately come to mind. But hear me out on this one.
It was, by any measure, a deeply brutal and distressing time: Nazi forces occupied Norway from April 1940, controlling the state until the war ended. During that time sporadic acts of civil disobedience among the Norwegians were rife. For example, passengers on trams frequently refused to sit next to Nazi officers — even if the seat were free. This gave rise to signs like these, stating that it was forbidden to stand when empty seats were available:
But perhaps the bravest — and funniest — form of resistance was created by the editor of one Norway’s newspapers: Ringerikes Blad. The editor’s name was Oskar Hasselknippe. Here he is, in later life.
Hasselknippe had the bright idea of inserting deliberate spelling errors into his newspaper. For example, when the Nazis forced him to write an editorial stating that “in this war the Germans are utterly superior in men and cannons,” as the editor he could have objected — and might well have been arrested and tortured, if not killed. Instead, he wrote the editorial and printed it. But instead of writing menn og kanoner (‘men and cannons’) he made sure it read menn og kaniner (‘men and rabbits’). And he didn’t stop there. Other “typos” soon appeared, peppering his newspaper reports.
Looked at now, 80 years later, this might seem nothing more than immature games: the kind of in-jokes that might appear in a school magazine. But there was a hugely serious point to it: Hasselknippe knew that just changing an “o” to an “a” was enough to resonate with hundreds of thousands of Norwegians — all of whom would read, discuss and share the “typo”. It was both an act of defiance and an act of creating community. And humour is critical in strengthening community bonds.
At this point you might be glancing at the title of this newsletter and thinking, “Er, nice, but where’s the mention of brands, Paddy?” Fair point: I don’t want to short-change you. But there are, I think, two things we can learn from Hasselknippe and his subtle, but courageous, achievements.
The first is that humour is sometimes seen as a nice-to-have: a cherry on the cake. Not at all. It’s a tool and, as satire, that tool can be a weapon. And more than one dictator has been notoriously thin-skinned about it.
For example, after the Second World War broke out, Hitler composed a list of those to be executed after Britain was conquered. A man named David Low got a high rank on his hitlist. Here he is:
So who was he? The British Army’s Chief of Staff? A five-star general? Nope. He was a humble newspaper cartoonist, and one who mocked Hitler at every turn. Here’s one of his cartoons — it’s no surprise Hitler loathed him.
The second reason why I tell the story of Oskar Hasselknippe is, perhaps, a more personal one. People who work in advertising and marketing are often accused of living in a bubble. We look too much at industry work — indeed, I’m often guilty of this. The consequence is clear: if we only end up looking at other ads, we’ll make ads like those ads. And, hey, what’s the fun in that?
Fresh stories keep us fresh. A great example of this is Dave Trott’s work. In just one of his books, the great creative director talks about lonely hearts ads, Formula One, the Viet Cong, a little old lady who murdered her husband, and Tony Adams (below), the Arsenal and England centre back. This variety of interests — he seems to say — isn’t an added extra, but it’s an integral part of being a creative person.
Many thanks for reading — or tusen takk for at du leste, as they say in Oslo.
Book a free meeting with me here / www.studiogilmore.com / firstname.lastname@example.org / +44 7866 538 233 / Twitter: @mrpaddygilmore
A big hat tip to Atlas Obscura for their enlightening article on this, During the Nazi Occupation of Norway, Humor was the Secret Weapon, 9th August 2016. A good analysis of this period is Stokker, Kathleen: Folklore Fights the Nazis, Humor in Occupied Norway, 1940–1945, University of Wisconsin Press, 1997.
Trott, Dave: Predatory Thinking, London, 2013.