Waterloo- From Eurovision & the World Cup to Sherlock Holmes & Blackadder
My my! Waterloo- couldn’t escape if you wanted to…
And why would you want to! Today marks the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo which is an enormous date in our calendar which brings along with it a lot of activity, including fantastic websites and social media on what the event means to us in history and today.
And that is exactly why I am not going to attempt to do so myself as, to be honest, I just can’t do this huge event in history justice, especially compared to my lovely peers and colleagues- just Google the subject and you will see a wealth of great sites dedicated to the topic.
Instead, I’m going to look at Waterloo’s impact on popular culture, as it really has influenced so many places, stories and songs.
Take ABBA, for example. Possibly one of the most famous references to Waterloo, their winning Eurovision song of 1974 set ABBA on their worldwide legacy of amazing songwriters and singers. The lyrics specifically reference the Battle of Waterloo in comparison to their (doomed?) love life.
Another more recent song takes us to another lively, multi-country competition but jumps from singing to soccer. In 1998, back when I was still in Ysgol Dinas Bran secondary school in Llangollen, the World Cup was kicking off, and ‘Fat Les’ released the song ‘Vindaloo’ (nah nah), composed by Blur Bassist Alex James with actor Keith Allan penning the lyrics and providing vocals. The song comprised of a lot of things which makes Britain great, including a good curry (hence the name), loving a good cup of tea, cheddar cheese and referring to Waterloo!
Quite a few songs have Waterloo within their lyrics, but actually refer to the London’s Waterloo Station. This includes the Kinks’ brilliant song ‘Waterloo Sunset’, which refers to two lovers meeting every Friday night at the train station and watching the sunset together over the Thames. Originally, Ray Davies has confirmed, the original song was entitled ‘Liverpool Sunset’ and was written after being inspired by the Mersey, and refers to Waterloo in Liverpool, not London.
London’s Waterloo is a district and includes Waterloo Bridge and Waterloo Station. Waterloo Bridge, which crosses the Thames, was named to commemorate the Battle of Waterloo. The first bridge was opened in 1817, but due to structural damage had to be replaced by a new bridge in 1945.
This is where my favourite detective comes into the story- Mr Sherlock Holmes (the other man I go to bed with every night). Did you know that it is under Waterloo Bridge where the Sherlock ‘Baker Street Irregulars’ informants, from the homeless network, get together in the BBC series?
A second modern tv reference, although from the original book, is from the popular novel Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, where it is actually down to magic that the Battle of Waterloo was won, when heavy rain was summoned before the battle, helping the British and Coalition forces’ victory.
I also must reference Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, when they capture Napoleon for their history assignment during their time travelling adventure, but temporarily lose him to the delights of a new theme park ‘Waterloops’!
Finally, no historical pop culture reference would not be complete if it didn’t include Blackadder- and of course we do indeed find Waterloo in the film ‘Blackadder: Back & Forth’. This involved Blackadder also travelling back in time, accidentally killing Wellington before the battle and then travelling back in time to present day to discover the impact this had on the Britain… If you haven’t seen it, you really must!
The Battle of Waterloo is in the history books for so many pertinent reasons, and its impact on the history of the world is not lost on me. But the above really does highlight another type of impact Waterloo has had on the world- a different type of cultural impact. If TV, books, films and songs continue to reference these important historical events, they will continue to be highlighted to different audiences- especially those who may not go out of their way to pick up a history book, or search online for information. If this then causes just a handful of those people to ask the question ‘I wonder what that means…?’, then they go from not only providing entertainment but also engagement. And when you think about it that way- a Waterloo sunset’s fine.