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.

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

noddy

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.

Enid Blyton, Gilbert Harding/ Malcolm Sargent, Graham Greene (Graham Greene)

When I was a kid Enid Blyton was at the peak of her fame and popularity as a children’s writer. Her fictional creations included Noddy and his gang, the Famous Five and the Secret Seven. As well as a penchant for alliteration her books were engaging and fed the childish mind with innocent tales of derring-do and adventure. She was a prolific author and is thought to have sold over 600 million copies and her works have been translated into some 90 languages.

As we moved into a more politically correct era, Blyton’s books ran into choppy critical water and she was accused of being elitist, sexist, racist and xenophobic and her literary style was deemed to be unchallenging in terms of vocabulary and grammatical construct. The prominence of a golliwog amongst Noddy’s gang led her works to be banned by “more enlightened” libraries. Notwithstanding that Blyton’s works continued to be popular until and after her death in 1968 showing, as usual, the disconnect between right-on liberalism and popular taste, and her characters are a form of cultural reference for many people the wrong side of fifty to this day. It is dangerous to retro-fit modern sensibilities to works which reflected attitudes that were prevalent at the time they were written, a tendency that is all too present in our society today.

Gilbert Harding was the presenter of the very first edition of the Beeb’s televised panel game What’s My Line. Unusually for the time, Harding developed a persona as a bit of a character rather than the bland reader of a script which most TV presenters were at the time. He was famed for not suffering fools gladly and was dubbed the rudest man in Britain. In 1960 Harding hit the headlines again when he broke down in tears under John Freeman’s questioning on the Face to Face series. A closet homosexual whose gruff exterior was a defence mechanism, Harding was instrumental in developing the role of a TV presenter. As often is the way in England, nothing is what it seems.

Malcolm Sargent was probably the most famous English conductor in the 1950s and 60s, being the principal baton waver at the Proms. Known as a bit of a flash harry because of his debonair appearance, he did much to maintain the popularity and accessibility of classical music.

Graham Greene is one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century and a particular favourite of mine. His works were often what are now termed as thrillers although he described them as entertainments and include Brighton Rock, The Power and the Glory and The Third Man. His Catholicism and the sense of guilt and the need for forgiveness run through them. Despite being a serious writer his books were phenomenally successful and many were converted into films.

Both Sargent and Greene were in their different fields great artists with the common touch and that is what the English appreciate most.

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

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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.

Oliver Twist and Long John Silver/Captain Cook and Nelly Dean

One of Charles Dickens most endearing and, indeed, enduring characters was Oliver Twist who is the eponymous hero of the social satire that is the author’s second book. Modelled, probably, on the story of Robert Blincoe whose account of his childhood as a labourer in a cotton mill was a best seller in the 1830s and drawing on Dickens’ own boyhood, the book powerfully brings to the reader’s attention the evils of child labour, the recruitment of children as criminals and children living on the streets. Nevertheless, Oliver through native cunning and determination wins through in the end, the epitome of the English character.

As an island nation we have a proud seafaring tradition. Indeed, we like to think we ruled the waves for a couple of centuries or more and naturally many of our heroes, both from real life and fiction, are mariners. Although, naturally, we were on the side of right it didn’t stop some of our matelots waging a terrorist campaign against the shipping of other nations, particularly the Spanish. Piracy was rife in the 17th and 18th centuries and books like Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island gave the patina of respectability to what was in reality a criminal activity. The epitome of the pirate in many of small boy’s eye was Long John Silver with his wooden left leg, a crutch under his left shoulder and a parrot on his shoulder. Although a rogue and a villain, Silver does serve as a mentor and father figure to Jim Hawkins. A bit of a rogue but with a heart of gold – a diamond geezer, as we might say.

The main claim to fame of Captain James Cook (1728 – 1779) was his voyages of discovery and exploration down under which led to the establishment of the world’s largest penal establishment. Cook was killed during his third voyage when he stepped on to a Hawaiian beach. It was his willingness to go into the unknown and suffer untold miseries and discomfort for the greater glory of England that enabled England to add significant swathes to her nascent Empire, an object lesson to us all, to be sure.

Nelly Dean or, to give her her correct nomenclature, Ellen Dean, is the housekeeper of Thrushcross Grange in Emily Bronte’s Gothic classic, Wuthering Heights, and is provides the basis of the narrative for the benefit of Mr Lockwood. She discovered Heathcliff’s body in his chamber, thus enabling Cathy to marry Hareton. The problem with Nelly in the book, at least as I remember it, is that she is a pretty unreliable and biased witness. She is forthright, telling it as she sees it not as it necessarily was – another characteristic that is synonymous with the English.