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.