World Gone Bongo: Grift or Not, Captain Tom Rocked My World

Our resident Captain Tom expert, Andy Churnwell, explains why Captain Tom mania was an arousing phenomenon.


Andrew Churnwell

2/22/20222 min read

With Brexit achieved, and Corbyn defeated, my generation began 2020 in a state of nervous excitement, lusting for our next thrill. It had been a turbulent few years, though nothing could have prepared us for the outbreak of the covid 19 pandemic, nor the lockdown that followed it. In the safety of one of our many properties, we drank too much, baked banana bread, and clapped for our Great British carers. Blitz Spirit had seized hold of the nation and the threat of Corbyn’s Labour Party was swiftly forgotten in a mood of euphoria not seen since 1945.

We could barely believe our luck when, in April, Captain Tom, a 99-year-old British Army officer who had served in India and the Burma campaign during the Second World War, made headlines by walking about his garden to raise money for the NHS. For my generation, Tom was a symbol of Great British exceptionalism, a perfect heroman from an age when bin men were hard.

Before we knew it Captain Tom Mania was upon us. It was my generation’s equivalent of an all-night drug-fuelled rave: a perfect night of ecstasy, a transpersonal pleasure orgy of unlimited excess. I doubt many over the age of 50 can recall accurately what happened during Captain Tom Mania: his knighthood, his appearance on Love Island, the launch of Captain Tom gin, that glorious moment when he was illuminated in the sky on New Year’s Eve beside a Black Lives Matter fist. The intoxicating patriotism of it all was invigorating, addictive, arousing.

That Tom might have been a pawn in an elaborate grift (we still do not know all the facts) barely diminishes my affection for those wild months of bliss. For me, Captain Tom Mania was not merely about the man, nor the act of charity, which will ultimately do nothing to save the underfunded NHS from inevitable privatisation. It was about thumping bunga beats, chemical rhythms, and good times. It was about proving to the world that there is a reason why we’re called GREAT Britain. Whether it’s true that the Captain Tom Moore foundation tried to give Tom’s daughter a six-figure salary, I’m not sure. Grifting has, in any case, always been one of this country’s noblest traditions, and we must never forget the true message of Captain Tom Mania: vibes.