Saturday, November 13, 2010
TWO FINGER SALUTE, Le MANS 1971
Where did Steve McQueen get the idea for the "Two Finger Salute" at Le Mans?
Apparently, Maston Gregory, who was a friend of Steve's, seems to have used this gesture after winning Le Mans several years before the movie was released. Maston Gregory won in 1965 but the film was made in 1971. I wouldn't say McQueen was copying Gregory, but maybe there was an element of an in-joke in the gesture, especially as Gregory was driving in the race that year and is credited in the film. Why Gregory was pulling a V sign in 1965 - who knows?
Being from the Commonwealth, I can explain: this gesture is English in origin, or more correctly, Welsh, from hundreds of years ago when the French and English were at war.
Following the rout of French knighthood at Crecy and Agincourt, the French so hated and feared the Welsh Longbowmen (in the employ of the English Army) that if they ever captured one of them, they would cut off the first two fingers so they could no longer draw their bows. Therefore, on the field of battle, the Welsh bowmen would taunt the French across enemy lines, as a way of mocking the French by saying "I've still got my fingers".
The tradition continued long after the relevance of having a middle finger to draw a bow. The "Two-Fingered Salute" essentially became the British gesture for "F*ck You".
By World War II it took on a second meaning: "V" for Victory.
During World War II Winston Churchill used the gesture during the height of the Blitz, to tell the Germans F.U. - We Won't Quit!
It is the opposite of the Victory sign, which Churchill used when England won a battle:
The Two Fingered Salute is well known in the European military and all of the drivers at La Mans in the 1960s would have understood it. As the Second World War was within living memory, it was a fitting salute for when McQueen beat a German, in such a close race.
Many people also believe that the modern "middle figure" gesture is derived from that "V":