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There Are Jewels In The Crown Of England’s Glory – Part Eleven

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Oi, oi, pin back your lugs for the next couplet of Ian Dury’s England’s Glory in our attempt to establish the quintessence of Englishness.

Somerset Maugham, Top of the Form with the Boy’s Brigade/ Mortimer Wheeler, Christine Keeler and the Board of Trade

Somerset Maugham (1874 – 1965) was reputed to have been the highest paid author in the 1930s and was, surprisingly to modern tastes, very popular in his time. Many of his works were adapted for the stage or the movies, enhancing his reputation and his wealth. His meisterwerk is generally considered to be his novel, Of Human Bondage, whose protagonist, Philip Carey, is based on Maugham himself, his embarrassment caused by his clubfoot echoing Maugham’s own struggles with a stutter and latent homosexuality.

Top of the Form was a popular radio quiz show which then transferred to TV running from 1948 to 1986. As its name suggests it was a quiz show featuring teams of schoolchildren, principally from grammar schools – a sort of junior University Challenge, really. As grammar schools fell out of favour, oiks from comprehensives started appearing on the quiz.  The show’s days were numbered when it became politically incorrect to suggest that some people were winners and many were losers and, indeed, to display publicly the ignorance of our younger generations. Still, it was part of my childhood.

The Boys Brigade was a bit like the Boy Scouts with religion thrown in. Founded in Glasgow in 1883 by Sir William Alexander Smith its aim was to combine drill activities with Christian values. Sounds fun! In my mind they were always dragooned in to provide a marching band for festivals and parades.

Mortimer Wheeler (1890 – 1976) was probably best known in the 1950s and 60s for raising the profile of archaeology through a succession of books and TV programmes. He was TV Personality of the Year in 1954, albeit for his appearances in the panel show, Animal, Vegetable, Mineral. Wheeler, though, was a marmite figure and many of his theories and interpretations have subsequently been discredited.  Nonetheless, Tony Robinson and the Time Team owe him a great debt and our fascination with and desire to preserve sites of archaeological interest are testament to his pioneering endeavours.

Christine Keeler (1942 – present) burst on to the national stage when her relationship with the then Secretary of State for War, John Profumo, became a cause celebre in 1963, causing the politician to resign and signalling the end of the MacMillan government. The iconic photograph of her unclothed astride a chair graced the wall of many a student’s room.

Finally, the Board of Trade was a government department responsible for the promotion of trade in Britain and the empire. Its remit extended in the mid 19th century to include responsibilities for patents and company and labour regulations. Established in 1621 by King James I to investigate the causes of the decline in trade it was merged with the Ministry of Technology in 1970 to become the Department for Trade and Industry.

A motley collection of characters and institutions that made up part of English life two or three decades back, to be sure.

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There Are Jewels In The Crown Of England’s Glory – Part Five

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Oi, oi, pin back your lugs for the next couplet of Ian Dury’s England’s Glory in our attempt to establish the quintessence of Englishness.

Nice bit of kipper and Jack the Ripper and Upton Park/ Grace, Cilla, Maxy Miller and Petula Clark

In days gone by when the pace of life was less frenetic, what set you up for the day was a good cooked breakfast. A healthier option to the full English aka heart attack on a plate was a pair of kippers. A kipper is a herring which has been smoked as part of its curative process. It has a distinctive dark orange colour and a strong taste and, you will probably find, effects that will repeat on you for the rest of the morning. A good hearty breakfast rather than the unsatisfying continental fare of croissants and jams is what we are known for.

It may be a legacy of the Second World War and the spirit of the blitz but there is an affection for the mythical cheery Cockney and where better to find him than Upton Park, the home (for the time being) of the Irons or West Ham United. The club’s legendary status which has never been matched by their performances on the pitch was boosted by having three representatives in England’s World Cup winning team of 1966.

Jack the Ripper is the name given to the unidentified serial-killer who was active around the Whitechapel area of London’s East End and was responsible for the grizzly demise of a number of women of the night. The culprit was never caught and every now and again newspapers desperate for copy try to rake over the coals and finger someone. But what we English admire is someone who has led the authorities a merry dance and got away with it.

Our Gracie or Gracie Fields was a popular singer in the 1930s and 1940s and did sterling work entertaining the troops, although some might say they already had had enough to contend with. She was responsible for inflicting songs such as Sally, Wish Me Luck As You Wave Goodbye, Now Is The Hour and The Biggest Aspidistra In The World. Her schmaltzy and sentimental style proved very popular and kept the home fires burning during the War.

If cockneys are our favourites then lovable Scousers run them a close second in the nation’s affections and no one is more lovable than our Cilla, Cilla Black. She rose to prominence on the back of the Merseybeat phenomenon of the mid 1960s her 1964 hit, Anyone Who Had A Heart, was the biggest selling single by a female artist in the 1960s. She reinvented herself as a TV celeb in the 1980s and 1990s.

Max Miller, the self-styled cheeky chappie, was England’s top comedian during the 1930s to 1950s. He was renowned for telling risqué jokes and his material was often deemed to be too blue for the rather staid Beeb at the time. The Beeb , at the time the only public broadcasting outlet in the country, had the audacity to ban his ditty, Let’s Have A Ride On Your Bicycle. So fierce was the outcry that the Beeb had to perform a volte-face tout suite.

The French phrases segue us nicely into Petula Clark who was a popular singer primarily in the 1950s and 1960s who recorded songs in French as well as English and was one of the few English artists to court and embrace a foreign audience. Probably her most famous hit was Downtown.

So what have we learnt? We have an enduring affection for the Cockney, the cheeky chap and sentimental songs and a decent meal to start the day off. If that is not the quintessence of Englishness I don’t know what is.

There Are Jewels In The Crown Of England’s Glory – Part Two

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Oi, oi, pin back your lugs for the next couplet of Ian Dury’s England’s Glory in our attempt to establish the quintessence of Englishness.

“Monty, Biggles and Old King Cole/ In the pink or on the dole”

Well, we wouldn’t be English if we didn’t yearn wistfully when we ruled the roost and saved the world. The first two characters we come across, one from real life and the other fictional, represent the indomitable English warrior.

Monty, of course, is Bernard Law Montgomery or to give him his title, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein. He was commander of the Eighth Army which fought in North Africa and the Battle of Alamein was the pivotal battle which wrested control of the area from the Germans and allowed the Allied troops to move on into Sicily and Italy. Monty was in command of the Allied ground troops during the Normandy landings and took the German surrender at Luneberg Heath on May 4tj 1945.

Biggles aka James Bigglesworth was the fictional creation of Captain W.E.Johns and the tales of his derring-do in almost a hundred volumes kept many a schoolboy, including this one, riveted. The first Biggles story, the improbably titled The White Fokker, appeared in 1932 and Johns kept pumping them out until his death in 1968. The stories were all variations upon a theme – Biggles and his loyal companions were in some tricky spot, up against insuperable odds and the dastardly enemy, but a combination of English bulldog spirit, craft and good fortune saw them win through.

Old King Cole was a merry old soul who appears in nursery rhyme. Who the geezer is isn’t known for sure but it is likely he was an ancient king or, perhaps, a Roman general who went native following the withdrawal of the Romans from Blighty.

In the pink is an idiom used to convey the sense that something or, usually, someone is in good health and tip-top condition. Although the slightest exposure of the delicate English skin to the UV rays of the sun brings us out looking like a lobster, the use of pink in this context means the very pinnacle of something. This was certainly its usage in the 16th century. William Shakespeare gives Mercurio the line, “Why, I am the very pinke of curtesie” in Romeo and Juliet.

One of the unfortunate trends on the TV in recent months has been the development of what might be termed poverty porn, highlighting life on the dole. The term on the dole has been around since 1919 at least, when the Daily Mail (natch) records the phrase, “You won’t draw your out-of-work dole of 29s. this week.” The expression which is used as a synonym for Unemployment Benefit owes its derivation to the concept of handing out or doling charitable benefits.

Now that English is the lingua franca of the world one of the ways we try to confuse and conceal our true meaning is to use idiomatic expressions and slang. In this way we like to keep one step ahead of the others.

There Are Jewels In The Crown Of England’s Glory – Part One

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We are in a period of prolonged soul-searching as to what it means to be British. Personally, I am not going to expend too many grey cells on the matter, at least until September 19th when there might still be a Britain. What is more worthwhile in this period of uncertainty is to ponder what it is to be English.

As is often the case the wonderful, witty and late lamented Ian Dury has something to say on the subject. England’s Glory, which appears as a bonus track on the deluxe version of his meisterwerk, New Boots and Panties, but was actually written while he was with Kilburn and the Highroads, is a tribute to what Dury characterises as Englishness. Perhaps, if we pick through the bones of the song – as we shall over the next few weeks – we might have a clearer idea of what it means to be English. But, then again, we might not but we will have some fun along the way.

The song is a list of characters, some real, some fictional, some historical, some from the world of entertainment, around a chorus pointing out that each in their own way contributed to what Dury calls England’s glory.

The first couplet goes like this, “Frankie Howerd, Noel Coward and garden gnomes/ Frankie Vaughan, Kenneth Horne, Sherlock Holmes

Frankie Howerd was a British comedian in his pomp (and Pompeii) in the 1950s to 70s. He was famous for innuendo and double entendres and seemingly off script, direct addresses to camera and phrases like “Titter ye not” and “Oooh, no missus”. A sense of humour, wordplay and delight in innuendo, perhaps.

Noel Coward was a playwright, composer of whimsical songs and a director, known for his wit, flamboyance and for being the epitome of camp. A sense of style and knowingness, perhaps.

Garden gnomes are those hideous, generally plastic, ornaments people of a certain age insist in putting in their gardens. I always cheer when I hear one has been stolen in the neighbourhood. The Chelsea Flower show caused controversy last year by allowing them onto their exhibits. A love of the naff, perhaps.

Frankie Vaughan was a popular singer in the late 1940s and 50s releasing some 80 singles. He was a sort of Sinatra manqué. Pretentions to greatness but never quite getting there, perhaps.

Kenneth Horne was a radio comedian, popular in the 1940s and 1950s. His shows, Much Binding in the Marsh, Beyond our Ken and Round the Horne were must listen to shows and had a phenomenal cast including Kenneth Williams, Hugh Paddick, Betty Marsden and Bill Pertwee, amongst others. For their time they were quite near the knuckle in terms of their humour and risqué innuendo. Again suggestions of the saucy postcard sense of humour.

Sherlock Holmes was Conan Doyle’s master creation and was the English sleuth par excellence. A cocaine user and fiddler, Sherlock used his phenomenal grey cells to solve crimes which baffled the old bill using his powers of observation and deduction. Perhaps we are cold, calculating and analytical.

To be continued…