Asterix in Britain (French: Asterix chez les bretons) is the eighth in the Asterix comic book series. It was published in serial form in Pilote magazine, issues 307-334 in 1965, and in album form in 1966. It tells the story of Asterix and Obelix's journey to Roman-occupied Britain. 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.
Julius Caesar has invaded Britain and succeeded, mainly because the British soldiers under Cassivelaunos stop fighting every day to drink hot water (with a drop of milk), and refuse to fight over the weekend. Caesar, using his famous military genius decides to fight only when they stop to drink hot water and 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 cousin) and Obelix should accompany him back to his village to help transport a whole barrel full of the potion.
In Britain, the barrel of potion is confiscated from a pub cellar along with all the "warm beer" (bitter) by the Romans, who set about tasting all the barrels to find the right one. Asterix and Obelix steal back all the barrels but Obelix gets drunk and starts a fight. During the fracas, a thief steals the cart with all the barrels. After a brief stay in the Tower of London the three heroes hunt down the potion, which is being used as a pick-me-up for a Rugby team. 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 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.
Portrayal of Britain in the book
- The authors worried that, as had occurred with some of their other 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 strip 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."
In actual fact the authors reported that, in comparison with other countries that Asterix had visited throughout the years, they received no complaints from the Britons regarding the book.
British references in the book
- Rugby, cricket, the weekend, toast, umbrellas, double-decker buses, rain, fog, British gardens, 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).
- 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 famous cliché of England's terrible reputation for cooking is referenced several times.
- The British equanimity is a source of funny situations through the story.
- Anticlimax is from the tribe of "the Oxbridgenses, famed for their skill in rowing", according to the text. This is a reference to the rowing games held between the universities of Oxford and Cambridge.
- References to the Five Tribes tournament are to the 5 Nations Rugby tournament (held between France, England, Wikipedia:Scotland Scotland, Wikipedia:Wales Wales and Ireland. The game of rugby depicted is insanely violent and Obelix says that they must get this "nice game" played in Gaul (this refers to the fact that France is now one of the biggest strongholds for rugby in Europe).
- 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 moustache 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.
- At one point, 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 still not been built yet 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.
- The reference to "London Bridge" replaces a different joke in the original French. In the previous panel, a customer is seen complaining to a greengrocer that a watermelon is not fresh (the English translators adding a pun there, by having him say, "Rather old fruit"). Unseen to the reader, the greengrocer clearly puts the bad watermelon on the customer's head, because Obelix says that he is wearing "un chapeau melon" (French for a bowler hat).
Reason Dogmatix does not accompany the Gauls to Britain
Obelix tells a sad looking Dogmatix that he can not go with them to Britain. This is in reference to anti-rabies legislation in force in Britain at the time (and still in force in a modified form today) which made it difficult to bring other pets from continental Europe.
Language based humour in "Asterix in Britain"
The Britons' difficulty with French
Much of the 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 them being related and of Asterix using "tu" with Anticlimax from early on. This is a reference to the English language 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 many European states; "My tailor is rich" was the very first spoken phrase said in the first Assimil 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.
In the 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 is he is daring to oppose Rome, to which he responds "Maybe my garden is smaller than your Rome, but my pilum is harder than your sternum"