cover

Contents

Cover

About the Book

Also by Jon Gaunt

Title Page

Dedication

Foreword

Introduction: Coventry is Great Britain

Part I: What’s so Great about Great Britain?

1. Simply the best: the Red Arrows

2. Trooping the Colour … and all that (Royal) jazz

3. ‘Play up, play up and play the game’: in praise of cricket

4. ‘More strawberries, Vicar?’: the great British summer fete

5. ‘For those in peril …’: the RNLI

6. Bountiful Brits: charity in the UK

7. Leader of the pack: the great British fox hunt

8. ‘We few, we happy few’: stand up for Shakespeare

9. In praise of Blighty: what makes Britain truly great

Part II: How to Put the Great Back into Britain

10. The red, white and blue

11. Part of Europe but not owned by Europe

12. The lead swingers and what to do about them

13. ‘Time, gentlemen, please’: when the puking has to stop

14. Want to know about respect? Ask Mrs Morgan

15. Great British icons under attack

16. The great British motorist – and how green has become the new red

17. Stand up and be accountable: the battle for the Beeb

18. ‘Evenin’ all’: whatever happened to the great British bobby?

19. First in the world and still the best: NHS in crisis

20. Let Britain decide: why we need a referendum on capital punishment

21. The long slow death of the British boozer

22. Bravest of the brave: honouring the Gurkhas

23. Lock them up but don’t throw away the key

24. National service and why we should bring it back

25. Tolerance: one of the greatest British traits

26. Different but equal: the modern British bloke

27. Gold chains, no brains

28. If Britain is so good why are so many Brits leaving?

Part III: The Very Best of British

29. ‘Oooh Matron’: best British comedy catchphrases

30. Best of the Bard, or: If all the world’s a stage then Shakespeare’s everywhere!

31. Chips with everything: best British chippie

32. ‘You hum it, son, I’ll play it’: best British TV ads

33. Never say heavy: the best British boozers

34. We can be heroes: top ten British sporting superstars

35. Ten Brits who can do no wrong

36. By appointment to the British people: classic tastes for true Brits only

37. Top ten singles about UK life as only we can possibly know it

38. Leather on willow: best five British cricketers

39. Fifteen frames per second … and British: my personal favourites

40. Four British things I would travel a million miles to see

41. ‘It’s the way I tell ’em’: top British stand-up comics

42. Top ten British museums and art galleries to take your kids to

43. Twelve greatest events in the British calendar

44. Four times five: top 20 players for the home championships

45. The best British wheels: top five cars

46. Top ten modern-day British politicians

47. Much, much more important than life and death: Britain’s greatest football managers

48. ‘This royal throne of kings’: all-time greatest British quotes

49. ‘Clunk click every trip’: great British public information films

50. Made in Britain: top five British eccentrics

51. ‘Careful with that axe, Eugene’: top five most stupid British haircuts of all time

52. Five things you will only find in Britain

53. ‘Get your trousers on, you’re nicked’: top British TV coppers

54. Ten things to do in Great Britain before you die

And finally …

Index

Acknowledgements

Copyright

About the Book

This is Great Britain not rubbish Britain, and it’s time we all started shouting about this fantastic land!

This is the country of Shakespeare, the Sex Pistols and Bobby Moore. The land and people that invented football, rugby, the TV and the telephone. The home of democracy and the defender of freedom. A tolerant country and a fair country. So wrap yourself in our flag as Jon Gaunt embarks on a tour of the best (and worst) bits of this green and pleasant land, paying forthright tribute to the country’s favourite pastimes, best inventions and greatest moments, and offering his diagnosis of where we’ve been getting it wrong. This is one man’s sometimes controversial yet ultimately optimistic view of his country, and a brilliantly entertaining guide to how Britain can be Great again.

Also by Jon Gaunt

Undaunted (available from Virgin Books)

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TO LISA. MY FIRST, MY LAST, MY EVERYTHING.

Foreword

What’s so Great about Great Britain?

That’s what this book’s all about. It’s now so unfashionable to be proud of our country that even our national flag, the Union Jack, has become a symbol of anti-patriotism – the most famous example probably being the way the punk movement used it to lampoon and tear down any respect or reverence for our national heritage.

I should know. I was one of them and back in the late Seventies, one of my most treasured possessions was a copy of the Sex Pistols’ poster for ‘Anarchy in the UK’ which was a ripped and torn Union flag with safety pins all over it. You remember the one, it was designed by Jamie Reid who did the cover for the Pistols’ ‘God Save the Queen’, which depicted Her Majesty with a safety pin through her nose. As a fully paid-up member of the punk community I proudly displayed my anti-establishment, anti-Royal Family attitude to all who visited a succession of grotty bedsits that I lived in. I was ready to spit on the flag and all it represented. Soon afterwards the Union Jack and the flag of St George were stolen by the Nazi boot boys of the National Front and the BNP and it became an embarrassment to wrap yourself in our flag.

However as I have grown up I’ve realised just how lucky I am to live in the greatest country in the world and I have come to appreciate that the flag actually represents all that is great about our nation. I also now understand that it is our flag, and I and millions of other true Brits should never have allowed the Far Right to hijack it. However, as much as I now love my country, I fear for it, and what is happening to it. And that’s also what this book’s about.

If you’re a listener to talkSPORT or have read my column in the Sun you may already know at least some of my views about this great country of ours. If you disagree with them, I invite you to read on and who knows, on the Road to Damascus I may change your mind. I hope at least by the end of the book you may have come to realise what treasures Britain contains and to reconsider what we stand to lose if we don’t revere and protect our great traditions.

The structure of Gaunty’s Best of British is very simple.

In Part I: What’s So Great about Great Britain? I start off by simply telling you about all the things that I love, appreciate and believe are truly great about Britain – and which I hope you do too.

Part II: How to Put the Great Back into Britain is the meat, where I tell you what has gone wrong, what’s going wrong, and what might still go wrong in the future, if we continue to allow politicians to turn this Sceptred Isle into a Septic Isle. They have created a Disunited Kingdom and it is the duty of every true Brit to fight to get our country back. I want a country that respects and rewards the decent silent majority not the feral, the feckless, the foreigners, freeloaders and the long-term useless. If you’ve listened to me on talkSPORT, read my views in the Sun or watched me on Sky you know I will pull no punches and give it to you straight as I put the Great back into Britain.

Finally in Part III: The Very Best of British I celebrate all that’s wonderful, magical, special, fun and … of course Great about Britannia – and why it still really rules the waves – in a cornucopia of Best ofs. I know, you’ve seen all those Best ofs on Channel 4, but you know you love them – besides which I very much doubt whether Channel 4’s politically correct producers will have anything quite like this on their schedules.

So here it is – Gaunty’s Best of British. This is Great Britain not rubbish Britain.

I truly believe that now is the time to start shouting about this fantastic country from the mountaintops of Wales and Scotland through to the White Cliffs of Dover.

We need to remind ourselves that this is the country of Shakespeare, The Sex Pistols, Churchill, The Specials and Bobby Moore.

A land and people that invented football, rugby, the TV and telephone and revolutionised music, culture and the arts.

A small country that punches well above its weight with the greatest armed forces in the world, the home of democracy and defender of freedom.

A tolerant country. A fair country. A great nation and people.

It is time to rejoice in our culture, our history and our traditions and firmly put the Great back into Britain.

Jon Gaunt, August 2008

Introduction: Coventry is Great Britain

Most books have a beginning, middle and an end and they follow a familiar pattern but with this one I’m starting with the middle, the middle of this great country, my home town Coventry.

Coventry sums up all that has been, is and will be great about this fantastic country. It is a city that has refused either to be beaten or demolished whether by the Luftwaffe or the city planners and it has a population that is fiercely proud of its heritage. Coventry people may be critical of the city themselves but they would fight any outsider to the death who dares to knock the place.

To me that’s part of the British character. We may well moan and groan but we know in the end this is still a great country, a country that could be a lot better but is still Great Britain not Rubbish Britain.

Coventry is a microcosm of Britain. It is a city that has had a chequered past and has brought some of its troubles on itself but it’s a fiercely proud city that is now fighting back and reinventing itself while holding on to its past and history. Coventry has refused to be defeated and even now, if you drive into the city and see the vast open spaces filled with rubble from what was the recently demolished Peugeot car plant, you cannot fail to be also aware that the city is fighting back with two universities and new industry.

If you really want to know what it feels like to be British and to be proud of our heritage and history, just stand in the ruins of Coventry Cathedral and stare for a moment at the cross of nails which stands proudly and defiantly in the bombed-out windows of the nave. Well, in fact it is a cross made of the charred roof timbers but, underneath it, is the cross made of nails from the timbers. Then turn your gaze to the left and look at the etched windows of the new cathedral and experience the hope and resilience of a whole city and country that stood against tyranny and fought back after destruction while at the same time placing peace and reconciliation firmly on the map.

Coventry was a great medieval city that many historians believe was more beautiful than York; in fact it was regarded before the war as one of the finest preserved medieval cities in Europe. But that was all to change on a beautiful moonlit night on 14 November 1940 as German bombers tore the heart out of the city.

Days before, on 8 November, the RAF had bombed Munich, the birthplace of the Nazi Party, and now Hitler wanted his revenge and Coventry was the target.

The operation was codenamed Operation Moonlight Sonata. The Blitz started at 7.20 p.m. with the dropping of parachute flares, which hung over the city centre in the clear sky, swiftly followed by phosphorus incendiaries, which started fires in the city centre buildings, including the Cathedral, to help guide in the heavy bombers.

Then the first of 500 bombers started to drop their deadly weapons on the city. By 7.40 p.m. the Cathedral was ablaze and the rescuers had to abandon all hope of saving it. By now there were over 200 fires raging with eyewitnesses saying that the flames were 100 foot high and that the approaching bombers could see the fires from over 150 miles away. The bombing continued relentlessly all night and it wasn’t until 6.15 the next morning that the all-clear was sounded.

The raid had lasted at least eleven hours and over 30,000 incendiaries had been dropped along with 500 tons of high explosives. At least 554 Coventry citizens died that night and thousands were injured. Many bodies were never recovered from the rubble and many were unrecognisable. The Blitz destroyed over 60,000 buildings in the city and also destroyed the city’s tram system and most of its infrastructure.

It has long been assumed that, in November 1940, Winston Churchill knew that Coventry would be bombed on the night of the next full moon, but he ordered no extra precautions to be taken in case it alerted Hitler that the boffins at Bletchley Park had cracked his Enigma code. So the city, almost undefended, was completely destroyed. However, the spirit of the Coventry people was not and never would be beaten. They would, phoenix-like, rise again from this nightmare.

Much of what remained of this great medieval city after the Blitz was torn down with overzealous rigour after the war and I have sympathy with the line that ‘the council did more damage than the bloody Luftwaffe!’ However the City Council already had dramatic plans to rebuild the city centre back in 1938 well before the Blitz. After the war these plans, led by a young architect called Donald Gibson, were put into practice.

But this destruction and regeneration is typical of what has made Coventry great and so resilient. Coventry had always been a forward-looking city and even though the world’s first pedestrianised shopping precinct was perhaps, with hindsight, ugly – even an architectural carbuncle – it was at least unique and modern. It was a bold statement of a city determined to fight back and redefine itself while still linking with its past.

The original vision was for the precinct to have a clear view of the famous three spires of the city and was again echoed by the idea of linking the old and new as in the Cathedral. However the soulless nature of the precinct, especially during the recession of the late Seventies and Eighties, was to lead to accusations that the city was a concrete jungle, soulless and heartless, a description which most Cov Kids would argue with greatly. Just by demolishing the old buildings you do not and cannot rip the heart out of a place or community.

Coventry has always felt like a pioneer town. A place for new ideas and innovations. A place that whatever your background or place of birth you could come to and make something of yourself. In fact my old man said that when he arrived in the Sixties from Hull to join Coventry’s police force it was like living in the Klondike with men being handsomely paid for working on the track or being skilled toolmakers. As a young copper he said that it was like a western town on a Friday and Saturday night when the lads and their wives would wash down their huge steak and chip dinners with gallons of ale before taking on allcomers in mass brawls in the city precinct.

This was a town that attracted the best from all over the country and then around the globe, attracted by huge wages on the factory floors and the opportunity to make something of themselves in this fast-developing city.

Fuelled by the wages they could earn, the carworkers in Coventry owned their own houses on vast estates across the city and by day they created some of the most famous vehicles in the world, everything from the Hillman Imp, the Triumph Stag through to the Jaguar.

There is a real sense of pride among Coventry people that they were the most skilled workers who made the greatest cars, armoured vehicles at Alvis or Rolls-Royce aircraft engines. There’s a standing joke that the thick unskilled workers moved to Birmingham and this is emphasised in the Coventry joke: What does a Brummie call a spanner? Answer: a hammer.

I worked at the Standard Triumph for three months before I went to college and the factories were like major cities themselves where there was a tremendous sense of camaraderie and where you could buy or sell anything from one of the other workers. These factories underpinned everything the workers did: they had vast social clubs and recreation grounds and much of the leisure life of the lads on the track was directly connected to the car plant. The factories were who they played football for, where their lads went to boxing training or their daughters practised their Irish dancing. The factories were Coventry.

However this was a boomtown that unfortunately became a Ghost Town, as The Specials sang in 1981 as all the factories and the ‘clubs closed down’.

Well, not all the factories but many of them. I remember going off to university in 1978 and most kids at my school walked straight into toolmaking apprenticeships or well-paid jobs on the track, but by the time I returned to live in the city three years later there was not only huge youth unemployment but also mass unemployment for all ages. The Triumph Standard factory had been closed down with the loss of thousands of jobs and soon other famous British manufacturing names were to follow including Alvis, Humber and eventually, years later, Massey Ferguson.

Coventry was a depressing place at the time and it was and still is a hard city but a city and a population that has and always will refuse to lie down and die. It is this bulldog spirit that needs to be echoed around this great country of ours. We should all be wrapping ourselves in our flag regardless of our colour, our creed or where our dads came from. We should be proud of our individual heritage or culture but united under one flag in our vision for a future.

Coventry was the Two Tone city but actually it has always been a city of many colours. With the exception of one or two isolated incidents it was a city that had been proud of its multiracial history and its ability to welcome allcomers. Starting with the Irish, who came in the postwar building boom; to the Asian doctors, who came in the Sixties to head up our health service; through to the West Indians, who gave the city its vitality.

It was this mix that was going to be the catalyst for the Two Tone movement that for an all too short period showed the country that black and white could unite, have a shared vision and view of the world, and also dance like crazy.

It was no coincidence that Two Tone was born in this particular city at a really difficult time in its history; however, the real pity is that there is no real legacy of this unity left either in the city or the country as a whole.

Two Tone was multiculturalism in practice without the New Labour labels or social engineering. It was young kids, black or white, university educated or not, joining together in a love of music that had been brought to the country from Jamaica with the first immigrants in the Sixties.

It was living proof of just how tolerant this country can be and just how non-racist most Brits are. Of course there were still racists around and skinheads did interrupt and try to kidnap the music and the movement, but I used to be so proud of The Specials when they would refuse to play on if the knuckle-dragging fascists started to Sieg Heil. I was even more proud when Cov Kids including some of the band would face down these fascists with fists and boots.

The Specials’ guitarist, Lynval Golding, was stabbed in the eye in a vicious racist attack and as a result wrote a brilliant song that to me not only sums up why racism is so dumb but also why Two Tone was so important to Coventry and the nation as a whole.

The song was simply called ‘Why?’

Why did you try to hurt me?

I got to know

Did you really want to kill me?

Tell me why, tell me why, tell me why

Why do we have to fight?

Why must we fight?

I have to defend myself

From attack last night

I know I am black

You know you are white

I’m proud of my black skin

And you are proud of your white, so

Why did you try to hurt me?

Tell me why, tell me why, tell me why

Did you really want to kill me?

Tell me why, tell me why, tell me why

We don’t need no British Movement

Nor the Ku Klux Klan

Nor the National Front

It makes me an angry man

I just want to live in peace

Why can’t you be the same?

Why should I live in fear?

This fussing and fighting’s insane

With a Nazi salute and steel capped boot

A Nazi salute and a steel capped boot

You follow like sheep inna wolf clothes

You follow like sheep inna wolf clothes

We chase you out the dance hall, we chase you through the door

We chase you out the dance hall, we chase you through the door

Cos’ we can’t take no more of this at all

Cos’ we can’t take no more of this at all

With a Nazi salute and a steel capped boot

Tell me why, tell me why, tell me why

You follow like sheep inna wolf clothes

Tell me why, tell me why, tell me why

You’re too scared to make a speech during the light

Without a thousand police protecting your rights

To threaten and abuse, incite or fight

But who will protect me from you in the night?

Why did you try to hurt me?

Tell me why, tell me why, tell me why

Did you really want to kill me?

Tell me why, tell me why, tell me why

With a Nazi salute and a steel capped boot

Tell me why, tell me why, tell me why

You follow like sheep inna wolf clothes

Tell me why, tell me why, tell me why.

As far as I’m concerned that song is as relevant today as it was over 25 years ago when Lynval wrote it. Things are getting tough again economically and the knuckle draggers are on the rise again but just like 25 years ago the solution to Britain’s problems don’t lie with the racists of the Far Right.

The Coventry mascot is a phoenix rising from the flames and it rightly symbolises this great city as it demonstrates the resilience and ability of Coventarians to rise again from the pits of destruction and despair, whether caused by German bombers or economic recession.

Recently I stood in the Jaguar Hall in the newly built Ricoh Arena and watched the future of Coventry in the shape of a young band called The Enemy. They played with passion and anger for just over an hour and over eight thousand Coventry kids shared their enthusiasm and pride in coming from the Two Tone city. The lads proudly displayed the Coventry City flag on one speaker and, on the other, the Union flag and it is this passion and patriotism that should be on open display right across this septic isle.

For too long we have been shouted down as little Englanders or, worse, racists if we dare to say that we are proud of our culture, our history and our traditions and customs but now is the time to fight back.

There is nothing racist about draping ourselves in the red, white and blue.

There is nothing racist about protecting our borders and wanting those who want to settle here to understand our culture and embrace our way of life and language.

There is nothing racist in saying you are proud to be British.

This is why we also don’t need the very politicians who for years have been promoting and enforcing the failed dogma of multiculturalism on to us to suddenly give us permission to wave our flags or to say we should be proud of our country.

This miserable bunch of self-serving pigs in Westminster have opened up our borders to every Tom, Dick and Abdul without consulting us and sold our rights and country down the river to a European superstate without even giving us the chance to vote.

Now they want us to come up with sound bites about what it is to be British! Well, sod them.

I know what made this country great and so do you and in this book we are going to celebrate and rejoice in it.

This is Great Britain – not Rubbish Britain. The greatest country in the world.

PART I

What’s so Great about Great Britain?

1

Simply the best: the Red Arrows

The world-famous Red Arrows have been banned from appearing at the 2012 London Olympics because they are deemed to be ‘too British’.

Organisers of the event say that The Arrows’ military background might be ‘offensive’ to other countries taking part in the Games.

The display team have performed at more than 4000 events worldwide, but the Department of Culture, Media and Sport have deemed the display team ‘too militaristically British’.

Red Arrows pilots were said to be ‘outraged’, as they had hoped to put on a truly world-class display for the Games, something that had never been seen before.

Being axed from a British-based event for being ‘too British’ is an insult – The Arrows are a symbol of Britain.

The Red Arrows have been excellent ambassadors for British overseas trade, as they display their British-built Hawk aircraft all over the world.

The Arrows performed a short flypast in 2005 when the winning bid was announced, but their flypast at the Games was to have been truly spectacular.

It is to be hoped that common sense prevails, so if you disagree with this decision, please sign the petition on the link,

http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/RedArrows2012/?ref=redArrows2012

DID YOU RECEIVE this email?

I did, about a thousand times, and over 365,000 true Brits went on to sign the petition.

After a bit of dithering, the Government, in the form of Olympic Minister Tessa Jowell, intervened and said the story was untrue and that no firm decision had been made.

In true politician style she passed the responsibility on to someone else by saying, ‘This allegation is not true. The Government has not banned the Red Arrows from the London 2012 Olympic Games. The organising committee of London 2012 will decide what to include in the Opening Ceremony and other celebrations – but with almost five years to go, decisions are yet to be made on what these will look like.’

But the fact remains that so many people believed the story and signed the petition because it wouldn’t surprise us for the Government to ban something like the Arrows for being too British. The fact that so many people don’t believe the government about the Red Arrows is indicative of how little trust we have in them to reflect and cherish our way of life.

It would have been just another example of how the bleeding hearts that infest our Government, civil service and media want to constantly run down our history, our culture and our achievements.

To me, like the Changing of the Guard, the State Opening of Parliament or Big Ben, the Red Arrows symbolise everything that is great about Great Britain and I still get the same thrill now when I see them as I did as a boy.

Only just a few weeks ago I was finishing my show at talkSPORT and as the news jingle played in I heard the roar. Like the rest of the capital, I ran to the window and looked up to the skies and suddenly I was a little boy again as I stood in awe and stared as they flew down the Thames, painting the clear sky red, white and blue.

They were taking part in the ninetieth celebrations of the RAF but for a moment I wasn’t in London, I was back in Cornwall at RAF Mawgan Porth watching the Arrows perform their artistry in the sky.

Like me you must remember staring up at the sky, oblivious to the fact that your ice cream was melting as you watched our heroes carry out their display.

Of course they symbolise everything that is great about Britain and yes, they celebrate our military at its best and that’s because all nine Red Arrows display pilots are fast-jet pilots from frontline Royal Air Force squadrons. Many of the Red Arrows’ pilots and support staff have recently returned from Afghanistan and Iraq and many will be temporarily detached on operations overseas during their time with the Red Arrows.

The team was formed in 1965, and has completed over 4,000 displays in 53 countries and they are the best because the selection process is tortuous with pilots having to meet strict criteria that include having a minimum of 1,500 flying hours, having completed a frontline tour, and being assessed as above average in their flying role. Eventually a shortlist of nine applicants is drawn up who are examined during a thorough selection week and then put through a gruelling flying test, formal interview and peer assessments. Once selected, pilots stay with the Red Arrows for a three-year tour of duty.

Three pilots are changed every year, so that there are always three first-year pilots, three second-year pilots, and three in their final year. There are no reserves as a spare pilot would not perform often enough to fly to the standard required. The team leader must have completed a three-year tour as a team pilot earlier in his career, and is appointed in a separate selection process.

The pilots spend six months from October to April practising for the coming display season. If one of the pilots is not able to fly, the team flies an eight-plane formation. However, if the team leader, ‘Red 1’, is unable to fly then the team does not display at all. Each pilot always flies the same position in a formation. Reds 1 to 5 form the front section known as ‘Enid’, and Reds 6 to 9 are known as ‘Gypo’. The Synchro Pair, Reds 6 and 7, perform the highly popular opposition manoeuvres during the second half of the display sequence. During an aerobatics display, Red Arrows pilots experience forces up to five times that of gravity, and when performing the aerobatic manoeuvre ‘Vixen Break’, forces up to 7g can be reached, close to the 8g structural limit of the aircraft, a dual-control BAE Systems Hawk T1. This is the RAF’s advanced trainer, and has been used by the Red Arrows since 1979, replacing the Folland Gnat.

The aircraft are essentially the same as those flown by Advanced Flying Training students at RAF Valley, with the exception of smoke-generation modifications and a slightly uprated engine giving a faster response time. The smoke-generation system pumps diesel mixed with appropriately coloured dye into the jet exhaust to produce the colourful vapour trails that enhance both visual effect and flight safety. This allows five minutes of white smoke, one minute of red and one of blue.

This is the awe-inspiring jaw-dropping spectacle that all of us love in the sky that virtually writes on the clouds ‘Britain is great’ and that’s why the leftie pen-pushers at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport who did say that the finest aerobatic team in the world were ‘unsuitable’ and not in keeping with the event as they were ‘too militaristically British’ should hang their heads in shame or be sacked.

I am proud, and I’m sure you are too, of our military history and the brave boys who act like lions in Basra and Afghanistan to this day. We have a fantastic and glorious history and we shouldn’t let these revisionists make us feel ashamed of it. Departments, councils and quangos like these always find the money to celebrate diversity and every immigrant’s history but recoil at our flag and anything that remotely celebrates our glorious past.

These people actually despise not only our way of life but also the very men and women who are brave enough to pull on a uniform and try to defend it.

Colonel Tim Collins – the bloke who made the inspiring speech to his troops on the eve of battle in Iraq in 2003 – told me once that New Labour had always despised the military and this kind of comment about the Arrows just seems to illustrate it.

But hold on Gaunty, Tessa says everything is going to be all right! Well, not really because she hasn’t clearly and unequivocally said that they will fly in 2012, has she? But I guess we all know we can trust Tessa, don’t we? After all, she’s the Labour Minister who, along with Ken Livingstone, produced the budget for the Olympics that was at least six billion short and counting.

She was also the woman who masterminded Ken’s re-election campaign and didn’t have anything to say after Livingstone bragged that ‘I decided to bid for the Olympics not because of three weeks of sport but because I knew it was the only way of getting any government, Labour or Conservative, after thirty years of neglect, to invest billions of pounds in rebuilding the East End – and it worked a treat.’

When Ken made this outrageous statement on BBC1’s Question Time, David Dimbleby exclaimed: ‘You make it sound like a con trick.’

‘It was!’ Ken responded. ‘Literally, absolutely!’

A spokesman for Ms Jowell refuted Ken’s boast in the London Evening Standard by saying, ‘We put the budget together with the best information possible and the best expert advice that we could get.’

Asked if there had been any kind of con, the spokesman retorted: ‘Absolutely not. Ms Jowell always said that the budget would have to be revisited once we won the Games.’

There you have it then: it’s either a con trick or they worked the budget out on the back of a fag packet or on little Leo Blair’s abacus.

I can clearly remember interviewing Livingstone when I was working on BBC London when he told the people of London the Olympics would only cost the equivalent of a walnut whip, when it turns out he knew all along that it was going to cost the whole country the price of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.

However just as with the Dome the worst thing is none of the winkers involved in this con trick have lost their jobs, let alone been put before the courts.

In Livingstone’s worldview the Olympics are clearly a regeneration opportunity and just as with the Doom it’s the rest of us mugs that are going to end up paying for it. But just like the Doom the Olympics are also not going to reflect the real Britain.

I knew that the moment that prat Peter Mandelson took over the running of the Dome, and wore those 3D glasses, that the politicians involved didn’t have the vision to pull off this celebration of the Millennium and I was right.

The Millennium celebrations were a total flop and completely unrepresentative of why Britain is great and it is my greatest fear that the Olympics could go the same way. The Red Arrows could be just the start of the New Labour rebranding of our country.

We need more displays of our military might not less, and then perhaps we wouldn’t have the ridiculous situation where an RAF commander tells her boys not to wear uniforms in Peterborough town centre in case they get attacked.

Perhaps then we wouldn’t have Muslim extremists hurling insults at our boys in uniform in a Selly Oak hospital and perhaps then we would have political leaders who would take the time to welcome home the fallen when they return to Brize Norton.

In the dying days of Brown’s Labour Government the unelected Scottish Prime Minister is now announcing plans to create an Armed Forces Day, to draft schoolchildren in to the Cadet Force, to tell service personnel to wear their uniforms when off duty and now to make it a criminal offence to insult a uniformed soldier.

All of which I broadly support but why do I smell a rat here and think this is just a cynical and cheap attempt to gain popularity and to glamorise military action abroad?

I would trust Brown and New Labour more if they provided decent homes for troops, the right gear when they go into battle and actually had the guts to be present when the fallen return home.

But I’m afraid that far from being a sign of respect for our troops, this is yet more propaganda by Gordon and his gofers at Number 10. They think they’ve duped us into thinking they’re in touch with the public.

However this despicable attempt at a conjuring trick is transparent and spits in the face of every serving soldier as well as anyone who’s ever worn a military uniform in service of the Crown and is the latest example of just how patronising and out of touch our unelected Prime Minister and his Government are with the British public.

They’ve spent the last eleven years trying to rebrand Britain and despite sending our boys into more battles than any government in modern times, they have treated our armed forces with disdain.

Britain doesn’t need rebranding – it just needs its leaders to feel the same pride we possess in our brave boys, our military heritage and the traditions that made and are still making Britain Great.

2

Trooping the Colour … and all that (Royal) jazz

LET ME MAKE it clear – I am no great Royalist or monarchist. However I do know for certain that Her Majesty the Queen has served this country brilliantly and we should all support and thank her for over fifty years of dedicated service.

I don’t subscribe to the old cliché that the Royal Family are great for tourism, as the French chopped the heads off their aristocracy years ago and the Palace of Versailles is still the most visited royal palace in Europe. However, our Royal Family and the Queen are more than dress-up Disney attractions. They are, or should be, the focal point and the glue that binds our country together.

When the pint-sized President of France visited us recently I would defy anyone not to be puffed up with pride at the show and the banquet the Queen laid on for him. Not only have we got the most magnificent fighting forces in the world but we also do pomp and ceremony better than anyone else. That’s why Prince Charles is correct to remind us that when we marvel at the Trooping of the Colour we must bear in mind and never forget that these 1,400 marching men are also all fully trained soldiers who have all seen active service, some very recently.

This superb display of British pageantry always takes place on the second Saturday in June on the date of the Queen’s official birthday and the custom of the Trooping of the Colour goes back to the time of Charles II in the seventeenth century. Essentially the colours of a regiment were used as a rallying point in battle and therefore the flags were trooped in front of the soldiers every day so that they could recognise them. However it wasn’t until 1805 that the parade was first carried out to celebrate the Sovereign’s birthday.

Obviously the Queen attends and takes the salute, nowadays arriving in a carriage, but in previous years she rode side-saddle. She always wears the uniform of the regiment whose colour is being trooped and the regiments take it in turn for this honour in a strict rotation. As well as 1,400 officers on parade there are 200 horses in attendance and over 400 musicians from several corps of drums who march and play.

As the clock on Horse Guards Parade strikes eleven the Royal Procession arrives and her Majesty takes the Royal Salute. The highlight of the day for many though is when, after the event, the Royal Family gather on the balcony of Buckingham Palace to watch an RAF flypast. Often as not by the Red Arrows. I would defy any true Brit not to be simultaneously proud and moved by this extraordinary display of history and military courage and honour. This is truly Britain at its best.

Years ago as a student I would pooh-pooh such tradition and pageantry. As an aspiring punk rocker I was even stupid enough to organise an anti-Jubilee party in 1977 when the rest of the nation was honouring the Queen with street parties. However, as the years go by and so much of our culture, tradition and history have been diluted, I have begun to be more and more embarrassed by my youthful stupidity while simultaneously recognising the importance of such symbols of national pride and unity.

I’ll never forget one rainy day when Lisa and I and the kids visited the Royal Yacht Britannia in Edinburgh. For years I had argued that this was an anachronism and a total waste of money and a sign of excessive privilege, which exemplified why the Royal Family had to be scrapped. But on that rainy day I must admit I had one of those Road to Damascus moments where I suddenly realised that we had been diminished as a country by putting this old lady to rest and refusing to fund a replacement. As Lisa said, every tinpot country in the world has a royal boat but we, one of the greatest sea-faring nations on the globe, have refused to replace it. Yes the Queen would live in luxury but what does it say about our nation if we haven’t got one?

I realised the scrapping of Britannia in December 1997 was a massive mistake and actually an attack on our Britishness by the ruling Government. Then Blair had the temerity to push for an equivalent to Airforce 1 to transport him around the globe. I am not suggesting that the former Prime Minister should have travelled on EasyJet but despite his delusion that he was President he was not and no prime minister ever should be our head of state.

I had the same feeling when I was invited to Buckingham Palace for a party to celebrate British broadcasting. Don’t ask me why I was on the guest list – it was probably something to do with winning the three Sonys, which as you know I don’t like to talk about! However, as I mingled with the great and the good of British broadcasting – and also some Radio1 DJs – I was impressed, perhaps even converted to the idea of having a constitutional monarch. Although I was somewhat taken aback when her Majesty asked me to say the phone number more slowly as she couldn’t get it down (joke). Mind you I reckon Prince Philip would be a better stand-in for me than that rabble-rouser George Galloway.

Now I can here the sneers already. ‘Gaunty’s doing a Billy Connolly and selling out,’ but I don’t think I am. I just think that I’m growing up and moving away from the working-class prejudices that developed in my teenage and certainly student years. It’s easy to condemn and criticise when you don’t really know or have experience of the ‘enemy’. But as I have grown older I’ve begun to realise that there’s no need to fix something that isn’t broken and I can’t see what we would now replace the monarchy with. I certainly wouldn’t want the usual bunch of self-serving pigs to put themselves up for election to be our ambassadors abroad and in the absence of any credible alternative I reckon we should stick with what we’ve got.

‘The Firm’ could certainly be trimmed down to size a bit and a lot of the minor royals could drop their cost to the taxpayer as well as their airs and graces – and yes Princess Pushy Michael of Kent and golfing Prince Andy Capp, I am talking about you – but the core of the Royal Family should remain.

3

‘Play up, play up and play the game’: in praise of cricket

I’VE GOT TO admit that I am not a great cricket fan, or rather I should say I wasn’t a great fan but as I’ve got older I’ve grown to enjoy it and appreciate it more and more. It will never replace football as my number one sport but on a warm typical British summer afternoon there’s nothing better, even if it’s only on the telly, than sitting back, kicking off the shoes, opening a can and losing yourself in hour after hour of this quintessentially British game.

Only the British could have invented a game that is so fiendishly complicated and that can also last five days and still not produce a winner. Many people say that is why the Yanks will never get it – and long may that continue, even if I must admit that’s one of the reasons why I didn’t take to the game when I was younger. But like all good things such as real ale, fine cheese and classical theatre, sometimes you have to be a little bit more mature to appreciate the intricacies and subtleties of a game that requires more than just shoving a ball into the back of a net. It’s a clear case of educating either your sporting palate or taste buds.

I blame Lisa’s dad, if anyone, for getting me into cricket – well, to be truthful it was Mike and an old West Indian bloke we met in Barbados one holiday.

We were staying at some pretty grotty apartments but there was an old nightwatchman called Holden who was employed to keep guard. He was a bloke of about sixty-eight but he had the body and mind of a forty-year-old – it must have been all the rum, Banks’ beer and sunshine! He also had a rather unorthodox way of keeping watch; he would fall asleep on our patio and snore in unison with the singing frogs. Still, as they say in Barbados, ‘No problem’.

When he was awake in the early evening we would pass him the ubiquitous bottle of Banks’ beer and he would sit and chat with my father-in-law about cricket. It was amazing to hear these two old-timers reminisce about test series between the Windies and England from years ago when they were both schoolkids, which these two, separated by thousands of miles of sea, would listen to simultaneously on their radios. Both knew all the fielding positions and unlike a moron like me can envisage and recall all the manoeuvres and tactics. Even though I had obviously never heard the games they were talking about I was pulled into their conversations. It was then I began to understand the tactics of the game, the chesslike strategy employed by the captains and the fierce but friendly rivalry between the teams.

The game of cricket is probably one of our greatest exports and surely something we should be proud of, even if the ungrateful colonial bastards are now usually much better than us at the game!

When I first visited Barbados twenty-odd years ago it was great to see all the young kids playing cricket on the beach. This was when Barbados was footballer-, wags- and probably Michael Winner-free, when there were no traffic jams and, more importantly, hardly any American influence via satellite TV. In those days Barbados really was ‘Little England’ and it was a great welcoming place to visit. The people made me feel humble because so many of them sounded and acted more English than Lisa and me.

I felt a kind of guilt when I remembered the reception that some British whites gave these people when they arrived on the Windrush and later ships during the late Fifties and Sixties. It made me, a twenty-six-year-old, again confront the horror of racism, not the overt thuggery of the NF or the BNP but the subtle and not subtle everyday racism these people must have felt when they first arrived in places like Coventry when I was a kid.

Fortunately times have changed in Britain but unfortunately for Barbados things have changed there too: the people are just as friendly but the American influence is everywhere, the creeping social cancer of American TV is spreading and cricket has been a casualty of this, with more and more kids forsaking the bat and ball in favour of basketball and other ‘cruder’ American sports.

However they still manage to give us a run for our money – and let’s not mention the Aussies, for God’s sake!

Later, when I started going to test matches, I would recall those conversations in Barbados on those warm balmy evenings and could almost still hear Holden’s exaltations whenever there was a wicket and these memories, the great wine and company enabled me to begin to relax into this wonderful extravagant game. In a world that is so hurried, it is sometimes delightful to just let go and have a day at the cricket. I like the more relaxed atmosphere, even with the barmy army singing, in comparison with football and also, as I get older, I enjoy the slower pace of drinking!

Mind you, I have to admit I am beginning to be taken by the new Twenty/20 game and I can see the very real possibility of it making cricket both more accessible and popular. In fact my Bethany has become a real fan of this new game and really enjoys the odd evening at the Northamptonshire ground. I hope Twenty/20 does take off and I don’t begrudge one penny of the fortunes the cricketers could potentially make as I feel they have been the poor relation to football for too long.

But for me nothing will ever replace the real game which has to be a test over five days, preferably with no rain to disrupt play, and it’s a cliché but true: there is nothing more English than the sound of leather on willow.

4

‘More strawberries, Vicar?’ – the great British summer fete

I ADORE THE traditional British fete, whether it’s the large-scale affair organised by councils or the smaller event put together by a local community, church, village or scout group. I like the fact there is always the inevitable worry about the weather and the concerns about clashing with other events either nationally or local. It all adds to the atmosphere and anticipation.

When I was a kid I used to love the annual Coventry Carnival and the fair in the memorial park afterwards. This was back in the Sixties when every factory in Coventry and their apprentices would decorate the back of a low-loader and turn it in to a magical float. All the Scout and Brownie groups would get involved and either march or have a float of their own and the whole procession, which would snake in very slow progress through the city centre, would be led by Scout bands or brass or silver bands from the local factories.

As a child I can remember sitting on the kerb outside Boots in Corporation Street waiting for the procession to arrive. Then suddenly you would hear the band in the distance or perhaps a police motorcycle rider would roar up the road and then the magnificent cavalcade would come into view.

In later years when I was in the Eighth Coventry Cubs we all made a massive Loch Ness Monster and had to wear green tights and black pumps and get underneath this papier-maché and fibre-glass construction and march in unison – it was brilliant and we won a prize when we arrived at the park.

The Memorial Park is on the poshest road in Coventry and there would always be a massive fair there including a wall of death and a huge display arena where the Red Falcons would land or the police dogs would perform.

I’m sure that Coventry wasn’t unique and this was an event replicated all over the country but it seems like a tradition that is fading fast with the demise of the factories and the pits, and that’s a shame, a tragedy.