Ed Driscoll

Man's Crisis of Identity at the Dawn of the 21st Century

“London is no longer an English city, says John Cleese. Is he right?” Ed West (no relation) of the Telegraph asks:

David Cameron’s speech on immigration may not have gone down too well with the parliamentary Liberal Democrats, but I can think of at least one Lib Dem supporter who probably agreed with the PM on this one. In an interview with Seven magazine, the Lib Dem-supporting comedy legend John Cleese explained why he had moved from London to Bath:

Cleese also spoke about the shift in British attitudes away from a “middle-class culture” and the emergence of a “yob culture”.

He said: “There were disadvantages to the old culture, it was a bit stuffy and it was more sexist and more racist. But it was an educated and middle-class culture. Now it’s a yob culture. The values are so strange.”

He added that he preferred living in Bath to London because the capital no longer felt “English”.

“London is no longer an English city which is why I love Bath,” he said. “That’s how they sold it for the Olympics, not as the capital of England but as the cosmopolitan city. I love being down in Bath because it feels like the England that I grew up in.”

It is certainly true that London explicitly sold the Olympics on the fact that the city, while less pleasant than Paris in every conceivable way, was multicultural. And while there are many positive things about cosmopolitan London – a dark-skinned Frenchman once told me that London was paradise because nowhere in France could he go about his business without fearing his skin colour might cause some problem – it is certainly not English in the way that Bath still is.

And Bath is English in a particularly liberal way, in the same way, I suppose, that Monty Python was. In fact, one of the strange things about immigration and enforced diversity is that it destroys the very things that liberals love about this country – its egalitarianism, its secularism (including the ability to laugh about religion), an unarmed police, a public willingness to pool resources to pay for publicly owned libraries, arts services, education and health care. Personally, being a latte-sipping European girly-man, I quite like those things, and yet they are slipping away (could Life of Brian even be made today? I’m not too sure).

John Cleese morphed into Theodore Dalrymple so slowly, I hardly even noticed.

But what did he expect? (Cleese of course. Dalrymple saw this coming ages ago.) Besides being, at times, one of the greatest comedy shows ever, Monty Python was a weekly assault on the values of post-war England. And England’s societal bedrock of wisdom and knowledge proved in retrospect,  to be surprisingly fragile.  If you’re throwing traditional values onto a bonfire every seven days, isn’t the inference you’d like to see them changed?

Of course, you shouldn’t be all that surprised if change for its own sake doesn’t go quite as planned. Or that, as West hints at above, the new era turns out to be, in many ways, less tolerant than the old one.

Update: Kathy Shaidle remarks, “Cleese and other stars of the post-war England ‘satire boom’ (beginning with Beyond the Fringe) were doing almost as much to destroy England as the Luftwaffe:”

[W]hat was left of Britain after the war was barely worth “satirizing;” the Pythons et al were “spoofing” an “Establishment” that was already dying, but they thought they were pretty brave to be trampling its grave. Weirdly, the Establishment then worked hard to ingratiate itself with these cheeky young upstarts, with gauche displays such as the awarding of those OBEs to The Beatles.

As I mentioned last week, you can chart the decline of pop culture in England in the five year gap between when Brian Epstein ordered his young charges out of their Brando-in-The-Wild-One leather jackets and jeans and into matching Pierre Cardin suits, and John and Yoko posing bollock naked for the cover of their first solo album in 1968. John would return his MBE to the Queen the following year, to protest, among other things, his latest single sliding down the charts.

Shortly before his death, Lennon would have some regrets about that phase of his life:

“I dabbled in politics in the late 1960s and 1970s, more out of guilt than anything. Guilt for being rich and guilt thinking that perhaps love and peace isn’t enough and you have to go and get shot or something, or get punched in the face to prove I’m one of the people. I was doing it against my instincts.”

Like Cleese today, I wonder if Lennon would have had any second thoughts about the world he helped to shape.