MEMORY LANE: On being British

By Ray Bennett (November 1999)

LONDON: We British cherish our loonies and it it’s no surprise that the House of Lords has lasted so long.

Only last week, a bill was passed in the House of Lords than deprives hereditary peers – traditionally a strange and eccentric bunch – of the right to vote on government bills. The event was marked by one lord leaping onto the Woolsack, or throne, of the house in order to manifest his objection.

The incident was, of course, seen on television and much was made of it in the press, It was a little like Roberto Benigni leaping onto Steven Spielberg’s chair at the Oscars – not treasonable but a bit outrageous.

Most people here agree it’s time for the House of Lords to change but, being British, some felt the man’s behaviour was a brave defence of the right of the descendants of ancient robbers,  land barons and slave traders to tell people how to live their lives.

There are seven hundred and fifty-one ‘peers by succession’, seventeen of them female, and the current plan is that all but ninety-two will be sent packing. It’s a new broom but there is a lot of discussion about what exactly what should be done now with the House of Lords.

Being British, this will take some time.

Meanwhile, on Monday, Greg Dyke stepped into the BBC for the first time as the director-general designate taking over from Sir John Birt, You might think that the outgoing D-G would take off and leave the new man to it but, being British, he plans to stick around until next April when Dyke takes over formally.

At the same time, there has been a noisy campaign by the British papers over a French ban on British beef. They wanted U.K. consumers to spurn all French agricultural products – from Champagne and Brie on down – in response. A handful of stores and restaurants announced they would serve only English cheese and Spanish bubbly but, being British, most people just went on with their normal purchases.

Seventy-five thousand of them cheered the ‘despised’ French when they pulled off the upset of the decade by beating New Zealand in World Cup Rugby.

Then there’s the major effort going on here to interest the populace in going out and spending large amounts of money at high-priced events being staged on what is called Mellennium Eve. Being British, most people appear to have decided that they will stay at home thank you very much. Video stores will be doing a roaring trade.

[A version of this column appeared in The Hollywood Reporter; the image is from the film ‘The Ruling Class’]

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