Title Asterix in Britain (1966)
Category Asterix Comics
Mangaka Goscinny and Uderzo
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Synopsis

Julius Caesar has invaded Britain and succeeded in his conquest, mainly because the British soldiers under Cassivelaunos stop fighting every day to drink hot water (with a drop of milk) and they refuse to fight over the weekend. Caesar, using his military genius, decides only to fight when they stop to drink hot water and on the weekends. As with Gaul, a single village remains independent, defying the Romans. One member of the village, Anticlimax, is dispatched to Gaul to enlist the help of Getafix the druid in providing magic potion for the British rebels. It is decided that Asterix (Anticlimax’s second cousin) and Obelix should accompany him back to his village to help transport a barrel of the potion. However, while beating up a Roman galley in the British channel, Obelix mentions the mission, which is reported to the Roman high command in Britain.

In Britain, the barrel of potion is confiscated from a pub cellar, along with all the “warm beer” (bitter) throughout Londinium, by the Romans, who set about tasting the barrels to find the right one. Soon the whole unit assigned to the testing is hopelessly drunk. Asterix and Obelix steal all the barrels labelled with Dipsomaniax but Obelix gets drunk and starts a fight with some passing Roman soldiers. During the fracas, a thief steals the cart with the barrels. In the meantime, Anticlimax and Asterix leave Obelix at Dipsomaniax’s pub to sleep off his hangover. While Anticlimax and Asterix go in search of the thief, the Romans capture the sleeping Obelix and Dipsomaniax, and raze the pub. After a stay in the Tower of Londonium, Obelix wakes up and breaks them out of the jail, and they reunite. The three heroes hunt down the potion, which is being used as a pick-me-up for a Rugby team, which ends up mauling their opponents in the match. Eventually the potion is lost in the Thames after an attack from a Roman catapult.

Finally reaching the independent village, Asterix eases the Britons’ disappointment by claiming that he carries herbs to remake the potion. These are later revealed to be tea. With a psychological boost, the village prevails against the Romans. Asterix and Obelix return home to the inevitable feast. The Britons like the tea so much, they proclaim it shall be their national drink.

An audiobook of Asterix in Britain adapted by Anthea Bell and narrated by Willie Rushton was released on EMI Records Listen for Pleasure label in 1987.

Humour

Errors

  • In the first panel showing Asterix, he is seen peeling potatoes even though the crop was not discovered by the Europeans until the colonization of Peru where the crop was grown

Stereotypes

  • The authors worried that, as had occurred with some of their books set outside of Gaul, they might receive complaints from British readers about the portrayal of their country. The following message was included in the original English release:

“As usual, we caricature what we are fond of, and we are fond of the British, in spite of their strange way of putting Nelson on top of their columns instead of Napoleon. However, when it comes to presenting this skit on the British to the British, we feel we owe them a word or two of explanation. Our little cartoon stories do not make fun of the real thing, but the ideas of the real thing that people get into their heads, i.e., clichés

“We Gauls imagine the British talking in a very refined way, drinking tea at five o’clock and warm beer at the peculiar hours of opening time. The British eat their food boiled, with mint sauce; they are brave, phlegmatic, and always keep a stiff upper lip. Suppose we were British, caricaturing the Gauls, we would say they all wore berets, ate frogs and snails and drank red wine for breakfast. We might add that they all have hopelessly relaxed upper lips, and that phlegm is not their outstanding characteristic. And most of all, we should hope that the Gauls would have as good a sense of humour as the British.”


  • The authors reported that, in comparison with other countries that Asterix visited, they received no complaints from the Britons regarding the book.
  • Rugby, cricket, the weekend, toast, umbrellas, double-decker buses, rain, fog, British gardens and the lines of similar looking houses, eating lamb with mint sauce and pubs are referenced.
  • The uniforms of the Camulodunum team are identical to the modern home kit of Colchester United
  • Asterix and Anticlimax engage in a debate of which side of the road it is ‘correct’ to drive on (people in Britain drive on the left, whereas in other European countries, they drive on the right). However, this debate would be anachronistic, because, at Julius Caesar’s time, both Britain and Gaul drove on the left side of the road. The change to driving on the right side of the road comes from Napoleonic times.
  • There is a reference to the British pre-decimal currency system (in use in the UK when the book was published). There is a reference to British imperial measurements: Anticlimax says to Obelix that they “measure in feet”.
  • The British habit of drinking tea is referenced in the comic, although initially the Britons drink only hot water with a little milk until Asterix introduces tea, in the form of herbs that Getafix had given him to carry and which he gives to the Britons before a battle in the book. The druid explains at the end of the book that the herbs were tea.
  • The cliché of England’s terrible reputation for cooking is referenced.
  • The British equanimity is a source of funny situations.
  • Anticlimax is from the tribe of “the Oxbridgenses, famed for their skill in rowing”, according to the text. This is a reference to the Boat Race held between the universities of Oxford and Cambridge.
  • References to the Five Tribes tournament are to the 5 Nations Rugby Union tournament (held between France, England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland). The game of rugby depicted is extremely violent with no rules limiting physical attack. This is much to Obelix’s pleasure, as he says that they must get this “nice game” played in Gaul. This is a reference to France’s role as one of European rugby’s strongholds.
  • At the end of the book, when the Romans are beaten in battle, Anticlimax exclaims “Victory”, while making the V sign, a reference to Winston Churchill. The Britons’ chief is a caricature of Churchill (with a mustache added).
  • The group of bards are caricatures of The Beatles.
  • The place where Obelix and Dipsomaniax are imprisoned is a parody of the Tower of London.
  • Obelix remarks that a tunnel between Gaul and Britannia would be useful. Anticlimax says they are working on the idea, “but it looks like taking a jolly long time, what?” This is a reference to the Channel Tunnel, which had not been built in 1966 when the comic was written.
  • In the English translation, while passing through London, Obelix states he thinks the bridge that they were crossing might be falling down. A reference to the song London Bridge is Falling Down.

Language

Original French

Much humour in the original French version rests on errors commonly made by British people in attempting to speak French. For instance, Anticlimax continues to address Asterix with “vous” rather than the familiar “tu”, in spite of their being related; and of Asterix’s using “tu” with Anticlimax from early on. This is a reference to modern English having only one word for “you”.

There are jokes relating to English classes. Obelix remarks on the tweed worn by Asterix’s Briton cousin, asking, “Is it expensive?” (“C’est cher?”). The Briton replies, “My tailor is rich” (“Mon tailleur est riche”) — an allusion to basic lessons in English, available in European states; “My tailor is rich” was the very first spoken phrase said in the first Assimil “English without Pain” (Anglais sans Peine) vinyl record volume released circa 1960.

Anticlimax speaks French but with literally translated English expressions as “I beg your pardon,” “Isn’t it?” and “I say!” In addition, the speech patterns of the British characters are changed to resemble English grammar. For instance, “potion magique” becomes “magique potion” (magic potion), reflecting the fact that in English, adjectives go before the noun, rather than after, as in French.

English translation

In the English version, the translators give the Britons a stereotypical British upper class style of speech to distinguish their language from that spoken by Asterix and Obelix. For example, they say “What” at the end of every sentence. Obelix asks Anticlimax “What do you keep saying ‘What’ for?” Anticlimax replies “Don’t you know what’s what what?”

The English translation contains jokes relating to learning French. When Asterix remarks that his cousin’s boat is small, Anticlimax replies obscurely, “It’s smaller than the garden of my uncle, but larger than the pen of my aunt,” made up of phrases proverbially used in English texts when teaching French. Similarly, when a Briton, holding a spear, deters the Romans pursuing the Gauls because they are ruining his well-groomed lawn, the decurion furiously asks the Briton if he is daring to oppose Rome, to which he responds “My garden may be smaller than your Rome, but my pilum is harder than your sternum.”

Film adaptation

The book was adapted into a film of the same name, which was released in 1986. The adaptation is similar to the book (the main difference being that Dogmatix accompanies his master to Britain).

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