Ye Olde England - Does It Have A Future?
December 6, 2002 7:49 AM   Subscribe

What Happened To My Woodcock? Much as I love reading Mary Killen's etiquette column in The Spectator, it has to be said it's becoming more and more exotic and self-consciously ridiculous. But that's nothing compared to the success of This England magazine, Britain's best-selling quarterly, complete with a crusty, pastoral editor's letter (Yes, Amanda, it was published in 2002) and a reactionary, anti-EU petition. Add magazines like Country Life and The Lady, Countryman or The Field, and the old question once again arises: will there still always be an England or will it just become more and more parochial and eventually go undercover? Or just disappear?
posted by MiguelCardoso (17 comments total)
The Spectator, Country Life and The Lady don't represent England, just one aspect of it.
posted by Summer at 7:54 AM on December 6, 2002

I know, Summer - but isn't that aspect becoming more and more isolated, far-fetched, reactionary to the point of being anti-social and just downright paleolitic?

There was a time, not too long ago, when Macmillan's "One Nation" dogma (whether or not it was a pretense to begin with) lead these publications (and the Tory politicians that went with them) to try and reach out to the wider society. Now they seem to drool at their obstinately annoying exoticism. Before they were just eccentric; now they're beyond the pale.

Also, I've been a Spectator and Telegraph reader for 30 years and very recently I've noticed this stupid, twittish and completely-out-of-touch mentality encroaching on them as well. (They were already too "little England" as it was) With hunting columns (by Charles Moore or Roger Scruton) galore; open baiting of the poor, etc.

I think something's changed. Also Scottish and Welsh devolution has given the English extremists an added encouragement to isolate themselves further and blow their absurd hunting cornets even louder.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 8:05 AM on December 6, 2002

We should ask Mary Killen to subedit the MeFi FAQ.

Q. I rarely call anyone out in MeTa, since I have always been a hopeless shot. However, I recently surfed the front page for a day and was rather pleased to spy a double post. At the end of the day, I was surprised to see that my call-out had been deleted. Was I wrong to have assumed that he who shoots it gets it, so to speak?

A. Yes, you were wrong. The correct etiquette on a call-out is that the final word belongs to the host. However, despite the fact that most call-outs are wildly uneconomical, the host is normally generous enough to give each guest at least a brace of whatever has been shot. Incidentally, trolls are fairly thick on the ground, but with self-linkers or double-posters, if you want an extra brace, you may have to ask the keeper if you can buy one off him.
posted by rory at 8:11 AM on December 6, 2002

admit it migs. you just wanted to say wood cock on the FP.
posted by quonsar at 8:33 AM on December 6, 2002

I agree with Miguel that something has changed. I used to buy and enjoy the Spectator, didn't agree with it but found it interesting and entertaining. For me the turning point was the death of Auberon Waugh - prompting the classic, forensic Polly Toynbee piece in the Guardian and this equally classic response from Matthew Parris.

Since then the English (for it is) Right seems to have been having a rather dull conversation with itself, for example the witless Countryside Alliance and the emptiness of this weeks Spectator.

The reason, I suspect, is Tony Blair - who has always been able to wrong-foot the "Right" and in doing so has changed the basis on which the dialog that is Englishness is conducted.
posted by grahamwell at 8:42 AM on December 6, 2002

What's the relationship between what these magazines write and the way people--even the remaining landed peerage--actually live? It's purely a guess on my part, but a lot of this sounds like wish-fullfillment and play acting to me. I wonder too, if these magazines and their attitudes aren't purchased and espoused more by those who aspire to an imagined life of privilege, than by those who actually live that way. In other words, I expect Olde England to have a future for at least as long as people consume increasingly parodic reproductions of it. I don't know the UK well enough to speculate on the political implications of all this, however.

P.S.--Shouldn't they be catching woodcocks with springes?
posted by octobersurprise at 8:48 AM on December 6, 2002

Yes, grahamwell. The Tory right is no longer listened to and has no power.

I would still argue that the consituency represented by The Spectator and Country Life was always a tiny, tiny minority, whose importance was exaggerated by their access to power. Now that power has gone they're simply another particularly noisy and whining minority.

Much as I loathe so much of what Tony Blair and New Labour stands for, I applaud them for this.
posted by Summer at 8:53 AM on December 6, 2002

octobersurprise: I'd say you were right on the wish fulfillment angle. Magazines like This England or Scottish Memories tend to sell a lot of subscriptions to ex-pats (sorry, can't find any stats, but the latter certainly stays afloat this way), so their readership consists of elderly folk in South Africa, Canada and Australia engaging in a rather peculiar form of nostalgia, where they fondly remember a version of their home country that never existed:- if it had, they would never have emigrated...
posted by jack_mo at 8:58 AM on December 6, 2002

*after being thoroughly woodcocked by quonsar's and rory's comments*

Octobersurprise: This England has, from the little I know, a lower-middle class readership of the kind you define so well. Although it's lavishly produced (I've only seen two copies, to be honest) and enjoys a wide and loyal circulation, it's somewhat of a samizdhat. The media don't mention it (in fact TE thrives on this marginal status) but its success means something is askew. Its content is 1930s schoolboy myths and pseudo-upper class escapism (a very English failing, even with otherwise intelligent and critical writers such as Evelyn Waugh, John Betjeman, Anthony Powell) with no regard for reality or modernity.

It corresponds fully to the attributes of an underground publication. As does The Lady, in a more genteel, orderly, unfashionable way. The other magazines (apart from The Spectator which just pretends to be) are, in my opinion, are strictly "upper class".
posted by MiguelCardoso at 8:59 AM on December 6, 2002

Rupert Brooke's 'The Soldier'

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

Sorry for the poem, but... meh.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:01 AM on December 6, 2002

No woodcocking intended, Miguel, just a mildly flippant aside. Your post raises some fascinating questions. And that whole hunting etiquette piece that I paraphrased really does seem like something beamed in from Mars to my Australian-living-in-Britain eyes. The catch belongs to the hosts? Who out of the kindness of their hearts might deign to give you some? And this in a magazine concerned predominantly with politics? What next, the etiquette of chimney-sweeping?
posted by rory at 9:36 AM on December 6, 2002

Place me firmly in the camp of octobersurprise. The 'This England' as defined in the pages of This England doesn't exist to its readers, and even where 'society' exists, it's something different. (Evelyn Waugh knew this in his early years, and though he went soft and nostalgic in later life, the portrayals in 'Scoop' and 'Decline and Fall' makes sense. And I think Bron possibly knew it as well.)

I'm intrigued by grahamwell's comment, but perhaps the cultural impact of Thatcher, not Blair, is what's important here. (Blair being Thatcher-lite.) Think of the mid-1980s, and the complete sidelining of the Tory wets, the party of Ted Heath and Sir Tufton Bufton, knight of the shires, and the emphasis on yuppies and Essex Man and that kind of money-driven individualism.

Anyway, random factoid: the offices of The Lady are slap bang in the middle of London, just south of Cov Garden. For some reason, that always struck me as the least likely place in the world to find them.
posted by riviera at 9:50 AM on December 6, 2002

Speaking of random...
Country Life : Country News: Random Sheep Pen Poetry Are those random sheep penning poetry or sheep penning random poetry? Are poetry penning random sheep. Is penning a word?
posted by Dick Paris at 10:03 AM on December 6, 2002

Harold Macmillan's Tory rhetoric was only going to carry unity so far. If he had stuck around a bit longer, he might have been inspired to move from the concept of "One Nation" to "One Nation Under A Groove." That might have worked, and all those Mr. Bridgers reading This England today would instead be reading Vibe.
posted by Mayor Curley at 10:29 AM on December 6, 2002

Yes, Mayor, I much prefer the less-parochial "Get your grubby hands off my woodcock before I smack your muthafuckin' ass, hizzo!"
posted by samuelad at 12:36 PM on December 6, 2002

jack_mo: that's a right incisive comment. It's so sad, but so...true.

What's with this pathetic Tory whimpering? This is the party that has the legacy of Pope and Swift to call on, and the best it can do is glossy money-shots of the Queen Mother and Windsor fucking castle?
posted by Sonny Jim at 4:40 PM on December 6, 2002

I thought This England had a number of dodgy links to the extreme right and individuals active in racist organisations?
posted by kerplunk at 8:51 AM on December 7, 2002

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