Oi, oi, pin back your lugs for the next and final couplet of Ian Dury’s England’s Glory in our attempt to establish the quintessence of Englishness.
“Henry Cooper, wakey wakey, England’s labour/ Standard Vanguard, spotted dick, England’s workers”.
London born Henry Cooper (1934 – 2011) was a heavyweight boxer whose powerful left hook, known as ‘Enry’s ‘Ammer, won him numerous British, Commonwealth and European heavyweight titles. His moment of fame came in 1963 when he knocked down Cassius Clay aka Muhammad Ali. So discombobulated was the American that his trainer, Angelo Dundee, in contravention of the rules, had to guide him to the corner and attempt to revive him using smelling salts. With a propensity to cut easily Cooper eventually lost the bout and reverted to type as one of Britain’s foremost horizontal boxing champs. On retirement ‘Enry became a TV personality and sprearheaded the advertising campaign for Brut aftershave. But to many he was the epitome of a brave Englishman undone by the devious foreigners.
The catchphrase “Wakey, wakey” was familiar to many listeners of the radio between 1949 and 1968 as it heralded the start of the Billy Cotton Band Show on Sunday lunchtimes on the Light programme. Cotton (1899 – 1969) was an entertainer and band leader of his eponymous orchestra, one of the very few to survive the passing of the British dance band era. As well as waving the baton Cotton sang and many a Sunday lunch was brightened up by his music.
History is written by the victors, they say, and until recent times historical narratives concentrated on the derring-do of royalty and leaders. But for many the real powerhouse of Britain’s industrial development and dominance was the honest blood, sweat and toil of the common man. Of course, post Second World War organised labour tried to redress the imbalance between the spoils of the few and the rewards of the many through campaigns to improve wages and working conditions. The result was often an impasse and some form of strike action. By the 1970s the popular misconception of the British worker was of someone who was prepared to down tools at the drop of a hat. Thatcher, seizing the opportunity this reputation created, severely curtailed the powers of organised labour opening the way for many of the egregious employment practices that now prevail.
The Standard Vanguard, launched in July 1947 and produced up until 1963, boasted a completely new shape, unlike any previous model. Built in Coventry and sporting a name that was redolent of the British Navy, the car had a sloping back and large doors which blended into the rocker panels. The second version of the car was the first British car to be fitted with an overdrive operating between second and third gears which effectively gave the vehicle a five speed gear box.
And what better to finish off this review of British culture with than spotted dick, a favourite pudding of mine, especially if served with oodles of custard – none of this modern predilection for cream or ice cream for me, thank you very much. A staple of school meals and bearing a name playing with the English passion
for double entendre it was ordinarily a circular pudding made of suet pastry and liberally sprinkled with currants or raisins. The word dick was widely used in the 19th century to denote a plain pudding.
And there we must leave England’s Glory. I hope I have shed some light on what is Englishness and provoked some memories along the way!