Stories of Remembrance: Mike Myers

In 2005, to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the end of the Second World War, Canadian celebrities spoke about the meaning of remembrance as part of the Stories of Remembrance Campaign, a project of CanWest News Service (now Postmedia News), the Dominion Institute (now Historica Canada) and Veterans Affairs Canada. This article is reprinted from that campaign.
Mike Myers
Mike Myers arrives at the Shrek Forever After LA Premiere Gibson Ampitheatre, Universal Studios Los Angeles, CA May 16, 2010.
Mike Myers
Mike Myers at the induction of Shrek into the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Hollywood, CA. Photo taken on: May 20, 2010

Battle of Britain Film

The world knows him best as the celluloid comedian whose artistic contribution to the planet so far amounts to a cast of zany, politically incorrect characters including Wayne Campbell, a basement-dwelling, mullet-wearing metal-head, and Austin Powers, the sex-crazed International Man of Mystery.

But Mike Myers, who also gave us the voice of the fearless ogre Shrek, may yet have other, more cerebral gifts to bequeath. The Toronto-born actor and filmmaker turns out to have also a serious creative side, one that for many years has harboured dreams about making a thoughtful Second World War movie.

“I have attempted a screenplay about the Battle of Britain,” said Myers in a 2005 interview from New York. “I don’t like war who does? But the genre of the war movie is something that I’m fascinated with. I think Saving Private Ryan is maybe one of the best war movies ever.

“I don't know if I'm the guy to do this, but it would be interesting if there was ever a Saving Private Ryan/Bridge Too Far/Longest Day equivalent of the Dieppe raid. A film about what the Canadians went through at Dieppe – that would be a fascinating thing.”

Dieppe Raid Recreation
Recreation of the battle by war artist Charles Comfort (courtesy Canadian War Museum/12276).
Dieppe: The Beaches of Hell

England's Sacrifice

Myers possibly knows more about the Second World War than any actor in Hollywood. He can recite the names of Dutch bridges targeted by the Allies in the infamous 1944 assault named Operation Market Garden; he can rattle off places where Canadian soldiers campaigned and died in northwest Europe from D-Day onwards: “Juno Beach, the Scheldt estuary, the Rhineland...”

His passion for the subject developed, like much of his comedy, in the company of his parents Eric and Alice, with whom he grew up in middle-class Scarborough on the sprawling edges of Toronto.

Eric sold encyclopedias for a living and Alice worked as a data processor. The couple had emigrated from England in 1955, and in Canada they raised their children in an atmosphere of staunch British pride. At home, the Queen’s message was a regular feature of Christmas Day. The films of Peter Sellers, beloved by Myers’ father, were a staple diet on TV. And the story of the Second World War particularly the English sacrifice was, says Myers, “a huge part of what was talked about at the dinner table.”

Family History

Eric, who died in 1991, left his home in Liverpool and joined the British Army at 16. He served as a “sapper,” or private, with the Royal Engineers, building trenches, erecting bridges and clearing minefields on the front lines of the war in northwest Europe.

“Of all the services, the Royal Engineers required the most amount of improvisation,” says Myers, "and this was a skill my father valued a lot after the war the ability to improvise what he called ‘jerryrigging.’

“As a result, my dad could make a cup of tea anywhere like on a radiator or something. And he was pretty good about looking at an engine, and anything that needed to be hit with a stick to get it going again, he could do.”

Alice Myers joined the Royal Air Force during the war, working at radar stations in the south of England.

“You know those World War Two movies where they have a perspex map of Britain and women in uniform are moving little model airplanes around on the map my mom was one of those ladies,” says Myers.

Alice, who now lives in Toronto, also worked on the Enigma program, the successful British bid to break the secret radio codes of the Nazis.

After the war, Myers' parents met and married in Liverpool parts of which had been obliterated by German bombers and lived through the food rationing of the post-war years, before moving to Canada.

Transformed by War

Myers says the war transformed his parents, and instilled in them the importance of teaching its lessons to their children.

“Both my mom and my father were very respectful of the higher purpose of fighting the bad guys,” he says. “They called it ‘fighting the fascists.’ It was a big thing for them, they really believed in the cause.

“I remember my father telling me about the Holocaust when I was about 10. He said: 'There will be very very bad people who will tell you that this never happened, but I want you to know that this absolutely happened that's what we fought for,'" recalls Myers.

“I have to admire my parents’ generation for saying, ‘You know, it doesn’t look good, the Germans are very strong, but guess what? The Nazis are bad people, with a bad system, and we ain’t giving up.’

Dieppe, July 2012.
The Canadian war cemetery at Dieppe. Image courtesy of Richard Foot.

“That spirit of saying no to bullies is something I have tremendous respect for.” Myers admits his films haven't yet tapped into his deep passion for the subject, although he suspects his parents' pride for British gadgets and wartime ingenuity breaking the Enigma code, for example may have manifested itself in the spy-world spoof of Austin Powers.

“I have enormous gratitude to the World War Two generation, and I would like to think their sacrifice is never forgotten,” he says. “But truthfully, the movie that's a salute to that generation who stood up to the Nazis I have not made that movie yet.”

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