Britain at Bay: The Epic Story of the Second World War, 1938–1941 by Alan Allport

Toward the start of the British wartime movie ‘Pimpernel’ Smith—a modernization of The Scarlet Pimpernel (and also starring Leslie Howard)—in which an absentminded Cambridge University professor rescues enemies of the Nazis from under the nose of the Gestapo, the corpulent and ferocious Reich Minister is seen poring over a pile of books. “Know your enemy!” he adjures a terrified subordinate. “I am told that the English have a secret weapon: their sense of humor! And I am determined to find out all about it.”

And so this pastiche of Hermann Göring has spent his time reading P. G. Wodehouse, Punch, Edward Lear, and Lewis Carroll. Predictably, he does not get any of the jokes and concludes that the English sense of humor is a myth, before adding, sinisterly, that when he is gauleiter of London he will see to it that “there is no talk of sense of humor.”