Five Days in London, May 1940

by Harry on April 30, 2007

Its difficult for a republican to watch The Queen, and for several reasons. First, its not very good—Helen Mirren is fine, of course, but none of the set pieces rings true, Cherie is overacted and implausible, anyone who has watched enough Rory Bremner could have written the Campbell/Blair dialogue, and, although the actor playing Blair captures his mannerisms, he does so too obviously (why didn’t they just cast Bremner, I wonder?). Second, just as at the time 10 years ago, one’s loyalties are torn. Of course, in some sense one wants the monarchy abolished. But, while one finds the Queen utterly despicable in most respects, her reaction to the collective insanity of a large part of her nation does her credit. The indecent and frankly lunatic mourning of millions for someone they didn’t know and who was, basically, a manipulative wastrel, bemused at the time. My feeling was something like: “Well, if this is what sinks the monarchy, what’s the point? Let’s just keep the sods”. Finally, and crucially, you just cannot suspend your knowledge that, in the end, the Queen wins, with Blair’s help. There’s just no dramatic tension for anyone over the age of 18 who is not senile.

Which brings me to the question which started bugging me about half way through the film: why isn’t there a film of Five Days in London, May 1940 (UK)? Author John Lukacs tells the story of the first 5 days of Churchill’s premiership, the period during which the war was not won, but, more importantly, was not lost. The focus is on the struggle between Churchill on the one hand, and the defeatists Chamberlain and Halifax (Halifax having, apparently, been the King’s preference for Chamberain’s successor), with Clement Attlee and Arthur Greenwood, having joined the War Cabinet when Labour became part of the coalition government, starting out as observers but then getting drawn in to the battle. You see Attlee starting to realise that he had play the self-abnegating role as Churchill’s ballast that he maintained throughout the war. (A possibly apocryphal moment, which the ungossipy Lukacs does not treat us to, has Attlee pointing out to Greenwood that if Churchill loses to the Tory grandees civilisation in Europe will be gone, Greenwood retorting that if so, “it won’t be our fault” and Attlee responding “I don’t want to go down in history as someone whose fault it wasn’t when civilisation was destroyed”). Lukacs takes the struggle a day at a time, interweaving the high-level political struggle with documentary accounts of the mood of the country. The characters are larger than life; there is no collective insanity; and the stakes are high. Best of all, when you’re reading it, you keep forgetting what the outcome is going to be. It’s a thriller—perfect material for a movie, and a much better one than The Queen.

I hope it’s not a spoiler to reveal that Churchill’s faction won, and civilisation was saved to live another day. What a relief!

{ 71 comments }

1

otto 04.30.07 at 7:16 pm

It’s a great book, from a very different sort of American anglophile than Andrew Roberts.

But I hope they don’t make a film out of it because the nice part of Lukacs is that he is admirably clear about the rather subtle tensions between Halifax and Churchill, driven as they are by IIRC the petition by the French in extremis begging the UK government to be part of an approach to the Italians to see what might prevent the Italians entering the war on the side of the Germans, with Halifax holding out that it would be worth seeing what sort of deal either with Italy or Italy & Germany would be on offer, but being willing to refuse it, and Churchill taking the view that he would have to consider an Italian or Italian/German offer if it were made by the other side, but that the UK absolutely must not be part of initiating the process. If a film was made, it’s quite likely that it would be overdramatised as the ‘defeatists’ versus Churchill in a rather stupid way, making Halifax out to be some sort of proto-Petain, which Lukacs in no way suggests, when the distinction between them was absolutely vital but not that one at all.

2

Jacob T. Levy 04.30.07 at 7:18 pm

while one finds the Queen utterly despicable in most respects

I guess that, while I understand principled republicanism, I don’t understand this. Maybe it’s just because I’m not a Brit and have only briefly been subject to her reign at all, but I don;t see what the reason is to find the woman, as distinct from the institution, despicable. (And so, like many Americans, I find it easy to agree with the Blair character in the late stages of the movie, perceiving her as the basically admirable occupant of a basically strange office.)

3

otto 04.30.07 at 7:18 pm

Andrew Roberts isn’t American of course. But he panders to the American anglophile crowd. I don’t think Lukacs is a Bush 43 type of guy.

4

trane 04.30.07 at 7:37 pm

I’d definitely watch Five Days in London, thank you.

I liked The Queen also. II found the characters convincing and was taken by the drama. I am above 18 years of age, and not senile. I am just Danish, that’s all I suppose.

5

Richard 04.30.07 at 7:47 pm

Funny how the word republican has come to mean something rather like ‘monarchist’ in the US… (or at least ‘oligarchist,’ if such a word can be tolerated).

FWIW I don’t think the institution of monarchy, as currently implemented in the UK, is all that despicable – but I do have a strong antipathy for Liz, and Chuck.

6

harry b 04.30.07 at 7:51 pm

bugger, I meant to change “most” to “many”. Sorry (I shan’t change it now). I stand by many but not most; and even that only by inference from what one hears. Despicable primarily in her treatment of her children, and her toleration of her husband. QM similarly, utterly charming as she was in person.

BTW, I reveal rather recklessly in the post the limits of my principled republicanism!

7

Richard 04.30.07 at 7:56 pm

My abiding memory of the whole event was being threatened by a drunken Scot in a bar in Key West. Somehow he thought the death of a “goodwill ambassador” was a great excuse for physical violence to an unnamed Englishman. It captured the mood of lunacy perfectly.
I do miss Dodi al-Fayed, though.

8

otto 04.30.07 at 7:56 pm

Despicable in the toleration of her husband!

You’re a hard man, harry b.

9

harry b 04.30.07 at 8:00 pm

Come on otto, he’s the pits!

10

otto 04.30.07 at 8:07 pm

Who said he wasn’t? But I think it’s a general rule that we don’t criticise other’s people’s married lives too much in this respect, since you never really know how these relationships work on the inside and there seem to be an enormous number of people who are tolerating their very dubious husbands or wives. I don’t want to call them all despicable.

11

novakant 04.30.07 at 8:07 pm

well, yeah, but what is she supposed to do about it?

12

fred lapides 04.30.07 at 8:10 pm

I am very American and understand little about “that country,” so this is what I questioned after seeing the film:
a) does the queen, unlike, say, our president, go about in a Land Rover or whatever that 4 X 4 was–alone?
b) For the younger set, why was Princess Di so compelling in her unfortunate death that the nation came utterly to a standstill?
c) why did the hubby trot about in kilts, as if to show who wore the pants in that family?
d) Was it necessary to do the deer-antler thing to make the point that humans count less than animals for the Queen?
e) Blair was depicted as a lickspittle. But then he did the syncophant act with Bush for some time too.
f) I was left with this amazing insight: gosh. Even an elderly queen can see which way the royal bread is buttered and she has to get downright political because the job market was not very good for former queens.

13

Matt 04.30.07 at 8:17 pm

One thing that was very funny to me about _The Queen_ was seeing Tony Blair eating cornflakes with the kids and washing dishes. Doesn’t the PM get a cook or a house-hold staff? When someone is leading a major country you’d think there would be better uses of his or her time than washing the dishes. Otherwise I completely agree with Harry about the Queen (both the movie and the person), Diana, and the monarchy.

14

otto 04.30.07 at 8:20 pm

My understanding is that the PM pays for his own food and drink etc, unless on state business.

15

josh 04.30.07 at 8:35 pm

I’d certainly like to see a film of 5 Days in London. I don’t think knowing the outcome need be a problem, provided its done well – I found much, though not all, of 13 Days quite gripping, despite knowing that the Cuban Missile Crisis didn’t lead to nuclear war.
Similarly, I liked The Queen, though I didn’t find it very suspenseful. I liked it partly for the very reasons that Harry seems to have found troubling — the way in which it made it difficult to comfortably take sides, the sense of ambivalence and unease it inspired – and, ultimately I think, the sympathy it managed to evoke (in me, at any rate) for both of the opposite positions between which the title character was torn — an old fashioned stoicism and guarding of privacy, and responding to the needs, however hysterical, one the people who look to one for symbolic leadership. I started out rather unsympathetic to all sides — to the Queen (but mainly her horrid, horrid husband — no disagreement with Harry there!), Blair, and the self-pitying, emotionally bullying British public. Over the course of the film, I found my sympathies enlarged — which is one of the roles that art can, and should, play?

16

Matt 04.30.07 at 8:36 pm

Weird. Maybe some day Tony Blair can blame his stupid support of the Iraq war on being really distracted by making lunch for the kids and having to fold the laundry.

17

novakant 04.30.07 at 9:13 pm

Doesn’t the PM get a cook or a house-hold staff?

No, no, no, they’re just like us. Of course it’s all a big lie. But you certainly get in trouble for pointing that out:

18

Gene O'Grady 04.30.07 at 9:53 pm

On the PM’s household, I recently read an obituary, perhaps in the Times, for the last survivor of the Scottish teenage girls who came to London to keep house for Ramsey MacDonald, the first Labor PM.

Now that was another world!

Apologies if any of my facts are inaccurate — all I know about British politics 1920 – 1938 is that Miss Jean Brodie despised Stanley Baldwin, whom I’ve always suspected I might have liked.

19

C. L. Ball 04.30.07 at 10:06 pm

Doesn’t the PM get a cook or a house-hold staff?

Hey, the US president has to clear the brush on his ranch himself, and that’s in state full of low-wage laborers.

20

JakeB 04.30.07 at 10:53 pm

“the US president has to clear the brush on his ranch himself, and that’s in state full of low-wage laborers.”

Not only that, he has to do it in the hottest time of the year, even though full-time ranchers normally do it in the winter.

21

Bloix 04.30.07 at 11:01 pm

Why does “one” want the monarchy abolished? Wouldn’t the effect be the inevitable independence of Scotland? Unless “one” is an absolutist believer in national self-determination, one might conclude that an independent Scotland would in the end result in a net decrease in human happiness and a significantly worse-off England – a lurch to the political right for most Britons, a restriction of the North Sea oil wealth to a much smaller population, and a diminishment of the UK on the world stage.

Aside from this effect, the British often fail to see how important the monarchy is in allowing public criticism of the head of government. You don’t have the terrible problem we have that the president is the head of state. No one would ever claim that criticizing Blair is unpatriotic, but we face that sort of nonsense all the time. The relatively small amount you spend on a family of twits (who make it all back and more in tourism, by the way) is well worth the clarity you achieve by having a head of state who does not rule and a head of government who does not reign.

22

Richard 04.30.07 at 11:04 pm

Fred Lapides:
a) Apparently yes, sometimes. She doesn’t drive trucks any more, though.
b) Because she’d been sold by British media (Murdoch and Black) as a Snow White Alice Florence Teresa, complete with Secret Tragedy and a sentimental love of little bunny rabbits. Somehow this exactly fit the Great British Public’s controlling myths/repressed psychological needs, in the same way Reagan appealed to something quite unaccountable in America. Right from the Royal Marriage (which was oversold something horrid) she was identified as a fairytale princess, and shortly afterwards as a canary in a gilded cage, making her into a bizarre aspirational underdog – Britain’s favorite mixture (at the time I didn’t understand, and thought this was all for the American audience, BTW; after she died it came as a bit of a shock to me that it apparently was designed for domestic consumption after all).
c) Because he’s secretly Greek (which means he has to pretend to be extra Scottish – like extra jam)
d) Only for foreigners.
e) He is. That’s his superpower.
f) Indeed. She might possibly see herself as bearing a heavy burden of heritage, but I think ‘endangered species’ is closer to the mark, and she knows it too. That’s why the mating prospects of royals and pandas are so closely watched.

23

Antti Nannimus 05.01.07 at 12:24 am

Hi,

>”I hope it’s not a spoiler to reveal that Churchill’s faction won, and civilisation was saved to live another day. What a relief!”

Oh, great! Yes, we already knew that Churchill’s faction won, but what wonderful news otherwise! And where might one find this saved civilisation then?

Have a nice day,

Antti

24

harry b 05.01.07 at 12:37 am

bloix — I should have used “one” throughout the para, but I just couldn’t keep up the joke, sorry. It’s how the queen refers to herself, not in reality, but in our sense of it.

Other republics manage fine — its all about institutional design. The US constitution is not very well-designed, not through any fault of the originators, but because it was the first democratic republic of the modern era, so they didn’t have much to go on, and unfortunately their successors have been less imaginative than they might have been. And from the outside its easy to see the benefits of the monarchy, perhaps harder to see the flaws (which, thanks to the current generation of royals destroying public respect for the institution are less than they were).

25

Bill Gardner 05.01.07 at 12:50 am

Wonderful story, when he sticks to it. Excising JL’s commentary would have produced a much better book.

26

Joseph Kugelmass 05.01.07 at 1:21 am

If it were true that any movie with a historical foundation was anticlimactic as a result, countless good films would go down. In fact, the very idea that The Queen is a bad kind of anticlimax, whereas the anticlimax is irrelevant to Lukacs’s narrative, reveals that nothing but personal preference is at stake here.

It’s a matter of seeing a story from the point of view of those who lived it — whether they were real, as here, or fictional, as in something like Casablanca — and understanding those people. That’s why you can make a perfectly good film about an anonymous soldier in WWII, somebody who had absolutely no effect on the outcome of the battles or the war.

27

Tracy W 05.01.07 at 1:35 am

I enjoyed The Queen. And I don’t quite understand most of your objections. I did think Cherie Blair was overacted, but it was interesting to see a different take on her character to those normally shown in the NZ media.

As for knowing the ending – that’s never harmed my enjoyment of Shakespeare. I don’t find dramatic tension in the sense of knowing the outcome the important part of The Queen, instead it’s the development of character, of seeing the pressure the royal family was under, and how the Queen is eventually able to adapt.

As for monarchy, I like it. When it come to politics we in the Commonwealth have Prime Ministers, who seem to provide as much political interest as any republic’s president generates. Coronations and state weddings make a lovely change from elections as spectacles.

28

roy belmont 05.01.07 at 1:58 am

“for someone they didn’t know and who was, basically, a manipulative wastrel,”
As we all well know.
I mean really know as opposed to just thinking we know, the way all those lunatic mourning millions do. Think they know. Her. Diana. The way we do. Wastrel and all. Manipulative. That.

29

Ian 05.01.07 at 2:24 am

I’m a republican, but I’d still like to add to the protests about Harry’s description of the Queen as “utterly despicable in most/many respects.” Like most/many of her subjects, she seems to be a fairly repressed and totally conventional person, so it’s hardly fair to blame her for retreating from the pressures of her upbringing into a carapace of respectability. I’d probably have done the same in her place. Might have shot myself out of sheer boredom eventually.

The movie was wretched: inoffensive (while trumpeting that it broke new ground), petrified of anything resembling a point of view – it combined the worst of celebrity prying with the worst of mainstream blandness. So it’s been a great success. Of course, that could all be a brilliantly subversive commentary on his subject by the scriptwriter…

30

SG 05.01.07 at 2:37 am

When I see Cherie Blair smiling that false smile in public, I find it hard to imagine anyone overacting her role.

31

harry b 05.01.07 at 2:45 am

I regret the “despicable”.

As for dramatic tension — I agree that a film can succeed even though you know the ending. But for that it has to have either some compelling charcterisation, interesting subplots, gorgeous scenery, the capacity to make you suspend your foreknowledge (as in “5 Days..”, which is the difference here, no personal preference) or… something else really interesting and compelling.

roy belmont — very clever! I withdraw. Substitute: “seeming, given my experience of human beings and her presentation of herself, to be a manipulative wastrel”.

32

Brian 05.01.07 at 7:47 am

Scorn your national dance, spurn your national food, spend all your extra time in your second homes in France or Spain, scoff at your monarchy, cringe at the faintest echoes of Empire.

Why don’t you all just sell up to us Americans? We know how to appreciate Britain. And we thought The Queen was excellent.

33

Mike Otsuka 05.01.07 at 8:11 am

Rawls defines a closed society as one that one enters only by birth and exits only by death. So the monarchy counts. The combination of longevity and live television will be its downfall. The spectacle of Elizabeth II trying to deliver her annual Queen’s speech when she’s 102 won’t be pretty. Since the speech is littered with references to ‘My government’, it won’t be possible for Prince Charles to deliver it in her place.

But wait! We can get Helen Mirren to deliver it. In fact, why not just transform the monarchy into a television series? Sort of like the West Wing, but more of a soap opera. Some Americans ask: ‘Why can’t Jed Bartlett be our President?’ Well, one reason is that when he presses the red button, nothing happens. Missiles don’t launch. But it’s all spectacle, symbolism, and ceremony in the case of a Constitutional Monarch. So why not just turn the entire royal family into fictional characters played by actors on the BBC?

34

engels 05.01.07 at 12:39 pm

So why not just turn the entire royal family into fictional characters played by actors on the BBC?

Perhaps it could it be shown exclusively on Masterpiece Theatre, thus keeping Americans like Brian happy without having to inflict it on the rest of us.

35

Valuethinker 05.01.07 at 1:46 pm

Fred Lapides

(my comments in bold)

I am very American and understand little about “that country,” so this is what I questioned after seeing the film:
a) does the queen, unlike, say, our president, go about in a Land Rover or whatever that 4 X 4 was—alone?

yes. On her own estate, which is secured. There would be Special Branch detectives very close by. She learned to drive in the ATF (the women’s Army in WWII)– it was an incredible step forward for an heir to the throne to be educated with other people, this was the first time that had occurred.

b) For the younger set, why was Princess Di so compelling in her unfortunate death that the nation came utterly to a standstill?

It was kind of a collective hysteria. She epitomised a generation, and a nation’s sense about itself. Imagine if not just John Lennon, but Elvis Presley, John Lennon and James Dean had all been killed in the same incident, on the same day.

c) why did the hubby trot about in kilts, as if to show who wore the pants in that family?

It was at Braemar, I presume, Her Majesty’s estate in the Highlands? It’s in Scotland, and the Royal Family is the Royal Family of Scotland, as well as England. The men wear kilts up there.

d) Was it necessary to do the deer-antler thing to make the point that humans count less than animals for the Queen?

she lives a very restricted life. That was the point.

e) Blair was depicted as a lickspittle. But then he did the syncophant act with Bush for some time too.
that is the popular prejudice of him, now, post events with Bush. He’s a little too fond of his own image. But it underrates him (of course)

f) I was left with this amazing insight: gosh. Even an elderly queen can see which way the royal bread is buttered and she has to get downright political because the job market was not very good for former queens.

take your own view. She was out of touch, her advisors eventually connected with her.

She has utterly enormous goodwill in the nation and in the Commonwealth. For most of us, in a very real sense, she is the Nation. Right or wrong, she is our Queen. When she goes, the situation for the monarchy will be much more difficult.

36

Valuethinker 05.01.07 at 1:57 pm

gene O’grady

What you need to know about British Politics 1920-1938 was that we had Winston Churchill, who destroyed the economy (by overvaluing the pound, refixing it to the Gold Standard at the pre-war rate of $4.85) then called out the military when the miners had the temerity to strike over pay cuts and increases in hours worked (in direct response to an uncompetitive exchange rate) ‘Not a penny off the pay, not a minute on the day’ was the General Strike slogan. The British economy never fully recovered, and the seeds of the postwar union militancy which crippled us were sown.

By the by we dropped high explosives on innocent Iraqi villagers, and mustard gas on Kurdish rebels.

Then we had a series of governments which slept-walked through the starvation and mass unemployment of the Great Depression and the rise of fascism, and actively aided the fascists in Spain by preventing arms shipments to the Republicans.

We certainly had no ‘New Deal’ and no ‘FDR’.

This hopeless lot nearly sold the country and the world out to a victorious Nazi Germany, then the party of the workers, the Labour Party, swung in behind a man they detested, Winston Spencer Churchill.

We then engaged, in an entirely socialistic manner (George Orwell worked in ‘Room 101’ of the Ministry of Propaganda), in the most successful mobilisation for total war of any country, other than the USSR. British war production actually *outstripped* German war production, despite the U Boat attacks and starting with an economy only 60% of the size.

37

brianh 05.01.07 at 2:23 pm

So why not just turn the entire royal family into fictional characters played by actors on the BBC?
Surely, the proper monarchical soap would be ‘Coronation Street’? Queen Vera could open parliament with an, “‘ey up!”

38

Russell Arben Fox 05.01.07 at 2:26 pm

“For most of us, in a very real sense, she is the Nation. Right or wrong, she is our Queen. When she goes, the situation for the monarchy will be much more difficult.”

I’d really be interested to hear more comments on this. It’s striking, for me at least, to realize that since WWII, covering all the deacdes in which the innovations of the modern world swept into nearly every nook and cranny or our lives, Britain has had only two monarchs, and more than fifty of those years have been with one–Queen Elizabeth. I know next to nothing about the British monarchy, but I guess it seems quite plausible that with her death, and only with her death, the whole thing will fall apart.

39

chris y 05.01.07 at 2:45 pm

36: Probably. She understands the thing she does, and what is necessary to do it. None of the younger generation do, with the possible exception of Anne, who has largely rejected it anyway.

Charles is held in general contempt; public opinion on the princelings reserves judgement because of their youth, but they are throwing away the fund of goodwill at an astonishing rate.

The problem for republicans, as somebody pointed out upthread, is that a republic with an executive presidency is probably an even worse solution. Something like the German constitution would be widely acceptable, but seems to be almost anachronistic itself in this age of centralism.

40

Emma 05.01.07 at 3:54 pm

You know, I happened to be in London during the Golden Jubilee (quite accidentally, in the sense that I didn’t know it was happening until I was in the middle of it), and I read all the newspapers giving all the opinions I read here: they’re out of touch, they’re throwing away the people’s goodwill, etc. etc. Even the pro-royalist newspapers were trying to explain to their readers how they must really downplay the whole thing because, after all, nobody cared, and it was going to be a bust. So I took off for Edinburgh thinking, poor lady.

Got back to London a week later to million plus crowds on the streets, lots and lots of people much younger than me (I just hit 45 then), singing God Save the Queen at the top of their voices, the place was a joyful zoo for three days.
I’m always curious about the anti-monarchists I find on the web because they seem convinced that the monarchy is about to collapse any minute now…if we define any minute now the same way religious nuts define “end of the world”.

41

chris y 05.01.07 at 4:04 pm

And what did you see in Edinburgh, emma? I live in a large provincial city, and the public response to the golden jubilee was lukewarm to be kind about it. London is in many ways untypical of Britain, not least in in sense that people who want to pay their respects to the queen have to converge there.

But you’re quite right that there’s a lot of residual affection for the old lady (though possibly less than there was for her viciously racist mother). It’s the younger generation that doesn’t command that following.

42

Richard 05.01.07 at 4:18 pm

“Scorn your national dance,”
? I’m genuinely confused here. The sailor’s hornpipe?

“spurn your national food,”
No. British national food has merely evolved: the national dish is now chicken tikka marsala. I write this absolutely without irony or regret: Britain is no longer a country (exclusively, or mainly) of forelock-tugging how’s yer father bangers n mash n mushy peas. See previous post on fantasy Ireland.

“Why don’t you all just sell up to us Americans?”
Done. Anthony Eden, 1948. Perhaps you missed the memo.

43

nick s 05.01.07 at 4:35 pm

One thing that was very funny to me about The Queen was seeing Tony Blair eating cornflakes with the kids and washing dishes. Doesn’t the PM get a cook or a house-hold staff?

Blair was at his constituency home in Sedgefield on the weekend of Diana’s death.

On the general topic of monarchy: I was listening to the Berkeley History 5 lectures over the weekend, and the professor spent some time addressing the question of how countries could go from Victor Emmanuel and Wilhelm I to Mussolini and Hitler in the space of a few decades. A catastrophic war, for sure: but once you dispense with one principle (pace Chesterton) then it’s harder to set the limits of what’s permissible in replacement.

That’s something the Australians have encountered, though HMQ’s death will presumably make it easier to contemplate something new.

44

Brian 05.01.07 at 5:00 pm

Richard,

National dance being Morris dancing. Much of what remains of traditional English song is kept alive largely by isolated bands of retired eccentrics. You can laugh all you like, but find me another European nation, or any other nation for that matter, with similar disdain for its own indigenous culture.

“British food has merely evolved.” Um, I take your point that it has become much more diverse. I also find it, after several years resident here, very difficult to find a good cottage pie or similar, precisely because neither chefs nor customers are willing to take it seriously. Your very own phrase: “Britain is no longer a country (exclusively, or mainly) of forelock-tugging how’s yer father bangers n mash n mushy peas” is EXACTLY the kind of disdain for indigenous(ish) cuisine that I had in mind, and is symptomatic of a larger vehement ambivalence the English have about all things English.

I distinguish the English in this purposefully; the Scots and Welsh seem quite happy with their respective identities. And I realize the English would stop being English if they settled all their contradictions etc and blah blah. Doesn’t change the fact that sometimes actual English people are the true Anglophile’s worst nightmare.

45

Richard J 05.01.07 at 5:43 pm

Re: The Duke of Edinburgh. Well, yes, of the Greek royal family, who rejoice in the ultra-Hellenistic name of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg…

46

harry b 05.01.07 at 5:48 pm

Brian

on the food you’re making an error. You could NEVER get good indigenous english food in restaraunts (Orwell writes about this 60 years ago), because good indigenous english food is home cooked, not restaraunt food. You will stil, by contrast, find it in lots of people’s homes, even in my generation (I’m 43) and certainly in my parents’ generation. It has long been the case that if you want to eat out, you should eat foreign food. (With exceptions, of course, which remain — there are still some expensive restaraunts in London which cater to hihg-end indigenous tastes).

Music — its more complicated. Basically, I’m with you (see my previous post). But it is complicated by the Beatles — they were steeped in the music hall traditions, on which they draw cosntantly, and through them the influence is still visible. I think of them as distinctively english, but of course they belong to everyone (and, of course, they also channel black american influences too).

47

engels 05.01.07 at 6:13 pm

Doesn’t change the fact that sometimes actual English people are the true Anglophile’s worst nightmare.

Indeed. But equally a true Anglophile can be an English person’s worst nightmare.

48

harry b 05.01.07 at 6:47 pm

It has to be said that on one version of Englishness, actual English people are the true English person’s worst nightmare.

49

W R Stevenson 05.01.07 at 6:50 pm

gene O’grady 36

“We certainly had no ‘New Deal’ and no ‘FDR’.”

But we came off the Gold Standard in 1931 so the economy started to grow again. Although FDR copied this policy as soon as he came in our unemployment rate in 1938 was 12% – compared to 17% in the U.S.A.

50

kb 05.01.07 at 6:56 pm

“Since the speech is littered with references to ‘My government’, it won’t be possible for Prince Charles to deliver it in her place.”

The Prince Regent managed pretty well.

And Victoria usually had the Lord Chancellor deliver the speech, after the death of Albert.

As did , due to his poor english, George I.

51

Donald A. Coffin 05.01.07 at 7:41 pm

I spend enough on books without your help. Thanks a lot.

52

Richard 05.01.07 at 9:01 pm

Hi Brian

I’m going to assume that in actual English people are the true Anglophile’s worst nightmare your use of true is knowingly ironic, like the intent behind the whole statement. Likewise what remains of traditional English song is kept alive largely by isolated bands of retired eccentrics I will assume to be a statement on the museifying of a ‘national culture’ prepared for tourism, pedagogy and political manipulation, so that folks like Richard Thompson don’t count.

FWIW, I agree with you that there’s a stratum of British society that’s ambivalent about or hostile to ‘traditional British culture:’ I think a similar, but smaller, stratum can be found in America, and maybe a larger one in India and Indonesia. In Europe, Britain may hold the prize, but Germany’s not out of the race. On the virtues and value of indigenous or national culture, of course Hobsbawm has something to say, specifically, IIRC about kilts. Is Morris dancing ‘the national dance’ (as opposed to other regional dances, such as Cornwall’s furry dance)? Perhaps; I’ve lost track of who sets these things.

The Beatles are a great case in point of the dangers of championing something like traditional English culture, though: yes, they’re keen on madrigals and close harmony: also on blues, and black and white rock’n’roll (which all have their own traditions). Music Hall may well be quintessentially English, but it owes a debt to French, Italian and Austrian popular theatre (including commedia dell’arte), not unlike the debt Balti owes to Indian cooking.

For myself, I’m vehemently ambivalent about everywhere I’ve ever lived, except Siena, where I will never settle down no matter how tempted I feel, because it is so perfectly produced as an ideal model that I’d have nothing to grab hold of.

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Gene O'Grady 05.02.07 at 12:34 am

#49 — It looks from your post that I said what was quoted — those were ValueThinker’s words, which I don’t presume to evaluate.

And, ValueThinker, I did know about the general strike due to a senior professor in my (American) graduate department during our VietNam commotion who gave us a lot of support in resisting the war and in one rather memorable conversation described his experience as an Oxford student turning down (unlike Diana Cooper) a chance to drive a tractor to help break the strike. What was interesting was that he tied the experience of the strike to his generation’s beginning to question the values of the empire. I have no idea if that was one old man’s reminiscences or if it was true of much of a generation.

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Ian 05.02.07 at 2:49 am

#52: FWIW, I agree with you that there’s a stratum of British society that’s ambivalent about or hostile to ‘traditional British culture:’ I think a similar, but smaller, stratum can be found in America, and maybe a larger one in India and Indonesia.

Richard – Indonesia? I’ve lived in Indonesia (Jakarta and Yogyakarta) and I never got any sense that this was a factor. Did you mean Malaysia? Anti-British feeling of course exists there, although hostility to American culture is far more noticeable.

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Anderson 05.02.07 at 3:47 am

Who will play Churchill in the movie?

56

Alex 05.02.07 at 9:35 am

Anthony Eden, 1948

It seems a little rough to blame the guy for something that happened while Ernie Bevin had his job!

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Valuethinker 05.02.07 at 2:53 pm

russell arben fox

I am of the camp that thinks we have good monarchs, and bad monarchs, and the institution is what counts. That view is simply informed by history.

I even see merit in Prince Charles: very much ahead of his time on environmentalism, and organic food. It’s hard to imagine David Cameron (shiny new environmentalist leader of the Tory Party) in a country that hasn’t had Charlie banging on about organic food for the last 30 years.

His personal life is a mess and he behaved like a cad to his wife. So was virtually every monarch in British history.

However we live in the media age, where the old certainties do not prevail. Once the upper classes knew these things, and the media kept its mouth shut. Now the whole country is obsessed with why Prince William dropped Kate Middleton (the consensus: her mother was ‘common’ and ‘social climbing’).

Her Majesty is, as you correctly identify, an enduring reminder of the things about our country that we value, and that we treasure. Call her the living Winston Churchill. She’s probably personally shaken hands with a million of us, and maybe 10 million have been at a gathering where she has spoken or appeared (I’m guessing these numbers but have confidence in the first number: I doubt there are too many people in Britain who don’t know someone who has shaken hands with the Queen).

She has ruled over us through some of our darkest moments, and tremendous social and economic changes in our country. And yet she is still Her Majesty. When we speak of the Defence of the Realm, and a loyalty to The Realm, we mean her, not Tony Blair.

When we sing the national anthem it is, indeed, God Save the Queen. Can you imagine God Save the President? Or God Save the Prime Minister?

That same affection pervades the Commonwealth. Clearly not in Australia, perhaps, but in other countries.

It’s quite possible by the time Charles ascends to the throne, there will be no United Kingdom, simply England (and I presume, Wales and Northern Ireland). The question of whether we wish to keep up with this antiquated form of government may fall open (we are finally doing away with a hereditary House of Lords).

But until that moment, we are still very much Her Majesty’s subjects. Like most things in England, the public face is to deny the private truth: patriotism is not something worn here on the sleeve, in an American style, where it is the civil religion, apparently. But it would be wrong to underestimate it.

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Valuethinker 05.02.07 at 3:12 pm

I’ll add to what I wrote above.

Apparently, when Winston Churchill died, the country came to a halt. As his coffin made its way to Westminster Abbey up the Thames, the construction cranes in the City, each in turn dipped its head.

Simon Schama has a very moving description of it in his History of Britain (book and TV series, the masterful chapter ‘The Two Winstons’ (ie Winston Churchill and Winston Smith, of 1984)).

When the Queen goes, it will be like that again. Hardened Monarchists will wipe their eyes. It will be, truly, the end of an era.

I don’t know if you’ve ever read Alastair Cooke’s piece on Harry Truman (after leaving the White House) at a New York restaurant, and a spontaneous crowd gathering outside. I can’t find it on the web. But it catches what people felt about Truman. For the Queen, it will be the same.

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Valuethinker 05.02.07 at 3:16 pm

sorry that’s ‘Hardened Republicans’ not ‘Hardened Monarchists’ ;-).

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Richard 05.02.07 at 4:56 pm

re 54, 56 – sorry, on both counts: that’s what I get for typing in a hurry and treating this forum as a displacement activity.

54: I didn’t mean Anglophobia specifically, I meant disdain for one’s own national (possibly ‘traditional’ culture); it’s not very public in Indonesia, but I’d say it’s there (can I quote good statistical research on the topic? No, for a variety of reasons exactly to do with the construction and maintenance of official nationalism).

56: Indeed. I was referring to Eden’s infamous quote in which he (quite accurately) describes England as America’s ‘junior partner,’ which I now see he first expressed as a fear in 1940.

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Nick 05.02.07 at 6:33 pm

Harry – trouble is, if 5 Days In May ever was made into a movie, Hollywood would have to re-write it along the following lines –
In the dark days immediately after Pearl Harbour troubled President Roosevelt (Tom Hanks) sends half-British American war hero Winston S Churchill (Al Pacino) on a desperate mission to bring Britain into the war against Japan by persuading them to attack Japan’s ally Germany, ruled over by the evil psychopath Hitler (Anthony Hopkins). Churchill sets off for England accompanied only by his comic Irish side-kick Bracken (Eddy Murphy, whited-up by CGI). Once there, he forges a strategic alliance with demagogic East End street-fighter Atlee (Colin Firth) who, at Churchill’s instigation, beats up the spineless British leader Halifax (Hugh Grant) in the House of Commons. A grateful George VI (Michael Gambon) appoints Pacino leader, and George’s neice the beautiful Clemmie (Scarlet Johanssen) falls in love with Churchill. Leaving Atlee to look after things in London, Churchill, Bracken & Clemmie are parachuted into Berlin to confront the evil Hitler. But they are separated, Bracken & Clemmie falling into the clutches of Hitler’s assistant & Aryan superman Goebbels (Arnold Schwarzenegger). Bracken resourcefully arranges their escape, accidentally setting the Reichstag on fire, and dies while Clemmie runs to safety. In the climactic scene Churchill chases Hitler across the roof of the burning Reichstag where he wrestles him into submission. Reunited with an adoring Clemmie, he declares ‘Peace In Our Time’.
On second thoughts, something like this may already have been done . . . .

62

soru 05.02.07 at 8:17 pm

I think it has.

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harry b 05.02.07 at 8:34 pm

Thanks soru, that was fantastic. (So was yours nick, and I withdraw my suggestion).

Did you know that the song was written by an expert in prosthetic manufacture, the son of East End jewish commmunists, who spent part of the thirties in Berlin measuring a senior Nazi (I forget which) for orthapedic shoes? If you don’t know what song I’m talking about, watch the trailer. IF you still don’t know… sorry.

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Ian 05.02.07 at 11:46 pm

#60: Got it. I wondered 5 seconds after hitting Send whether I’d misread you. Perhaps disdain for Indonesian national culture (assuming you mean pancasila, official versions of 1945, 1965 etc) is not very public, but that’s due to traditional social factors as much as educational and bureaucratic constraints. My impression is that reservations, if not disdain, are widespread and not restricted to the intelligentsia. And if you mean disdain for traditional culture, presumably Javanese culture and javanism, then yes, British or German parallels would roughly apply.

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John 05.03.07 at 5:40 am

Nick S: It’s hard to see how Mussolini’s rise could possibly have resulted from the end of the monarchy in Italy, given that he was appointed by that self same Victor Emmanuel, and continued as prime minister of the Kingdom of Italy for his entire rule.

Harry wrote:

A possibly apocryphal moment, which the ungossipy Lukacs does not treat us to, has Attlee pointing out to Greenwood that if Churchill loses to the Tory grandees civilisation in Europe will be gone,

Is it appropriate to refer to Chamberlain, the son of middle class Birmingham demagogue Joe Chamberlain, and Halifax, a rather jejune aristocrat with a title dating back to the Victorian period, as “grandees” to be opposed to Churchill, who was born in fricking Blenheim Palace? I suppose they had better Tory credentials than that two time turncoat Churchill, but still…

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Danny Yee 05.03.07 at 7:48 am

I’m not sure how Indonesia got into this, but I think it’s a very different kettle of fish. Rejection of traditional regional cultures there is likely to be in favour of either Western cosmopolitanism or more universalist Islamism. I just can’t see anyone rejecting Scottishness in the same way.

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Nick 05.03.07 at 10:43 am

Good grief.
I’m looking forward to their film of Stalingrad, won singlehandedly by General Patton (Harrison Ford), in spite of the defeatist dithering of Marshall Zhukov (Peewee Herman, possibly miscast . . .)

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Richard 05.03.07 at 1:09 pm

re 66: only the fact of rejection, not its alternatives, was the subject of discussion. Brian had speculated that the English were alone in rejecting their traditional culture (and he specifically excluded the Scots). Now, where the dividing line is exactly between Western cosmopolitanism and (traditional) Englishness is another matter (as is the presence of universalist Islamism as a strand of English identity today).

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ajay 05.03.07 at 4:05 pm

Norway has pretty much rejected its traditional culture too. At least, last time I was in Whitby there were almost no “BREAK GLASS IN CASE OF VIKING ATTACK” boxes left.

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Richard 05.03.07 at 4:29 pm

re 69: ;)
Also, few raiding ships anchored at York (in spite of “Jorvic” being a fair part of that town’s tourist pull).

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soru 05.03.07 at 9:15 pm

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