Putting the Great into Britain
PUBLISHED: 11:21 28 August 2008 | UPDATED: 16:29 05 May 2010
IN the wake of the astonishing achievements of Team GB at the Beijing Olympics (I hope it does not all end in tears in London four years hence), there is much talk about Britishness right now. We should be proud – and prouder still – to be British, it is
IN the wake of the astonishing achievements of Team GB at the Beijing Olympics (I hope it does not all end in tears in London four years hence), there is much talk about Britishness right now.
We should be proud - and prouder still - to be British, it is being said.
The momentum is growing since events in China had us glued to our TV sets at all hours of the day.
But even before then there was a definite movement in that direction. New immigrants to the UK already have to take part in citizenship ceremonies.
Teenagers may be obliged to swear allegiance to Britain and the Queen when they leave school in a bid to give them a better idea of what it means to be British.
Depending on their circumstances, I reckon they probably already have a very good idea which could range from a cushy, pampered life to unemployment and social deprivation.
Another idea from our imaginative Government is to have a new bank holiday to celebrate Britishness (although I think the Scots, Welsh and Irish are quite happy just to enjoy their own national days as they do now, unlike us English versions of Brits who don't seem to care much about celebrating St George).
What could put the kybosh on the enthusiasm for promoting Britishness is if prime minister Gordon Brown goes ahead with his threat to write a book on the subject. How riveting would be this tome from the dour Scot? Not at all, I would suggest.
What personifies Britishness? Is it our monarchy? Well that certainly plays a part in our make-up. But how will that institution be viewed once the crown is passed on from the present incumbent of the throne to whoever succeeds her? Not with anything like as much regard, I would say.
The Union flag is an obvious visual symbol of Britishness but is it seen now just as something colourful to wrap around the shoulders of winning athletes as they pose for photographers? I think it does, but how many people seeing one displayed would know if it was hung the right or wrong way up or round? Not many (but top marks to the Comet readers who noticed that one in the paper last week did not have the thick part of the white stripe at the top).
What about the national anthem and other patriotic songs? Ah, yes, they are truly British - but are they only ours?
God Save the Queen (or King, depending on whose name is on the lease of Buck House) probably originates from the 16th century. It is known as the National Anthem but has never been proclaimed the national anthem by an Act of Parliament or a Royal Proclamation.
The tune has been used in other countries including Germany, Russia, Switzerland and the USA, and around 140 composers including Beethoven, Haydn and Brahms have used it in their works.
So why, oh why, do we make such a song and dance about it being British?