Magazine article The Spectator

Identity Crisis

Magazine article The Spectator

Identity Crisis

Article excerpt

It's always amusing to see people pretending to be a certain race when in fact they're something else entirely. The Sunday Times journalist A.A. Gill was at it on Start the Week on Radio Four this week (Monday), posing as Scottish on the strength of having spent only the first year of his life there. 'I was born in Scotland, ' he told the presenter Andrew Marr, who I believe really is Scottish, 'and that makes me Scottish.' 'I don't think it does, you know, ' sniffed Marr. Gill asked him if Bengalis born in Yorkshire weren't Yorkshiremen and Marr was stumped.

Reluctantly (he sounded), he had to agree they were. 'Well, I'm Scottish, then, ' came the retort in an impeccable English accent.

Gill has written a book about the English called The Angry Island, and Marr said it described the English as 'ugly, pretty unpleasant. . . neurotically obsessed by their own boring history though they do a good memorial'. What clearly came across in the subsequent discussion was that Gill is a rather peculiar person, full of selfloathing and muddled thinking, and I dare say his book is pretty much the same. Marr told him he didn't sound Scottish but, then, nor does Marr. Gill enlarged on his theme with the ludicrous remark: 'They're very odd, the English. They're not like other Europeans.' Well, no, they're all different, really. 'It's no accident, ' he added lamely, 'that whenever anybody wants to put a baddie in a film the English get to play it.' As was pointed out this is something the Americans tend to do. He even found fault with the English sense of humour. Private Eye magazine was a very good example of the 'relentless bullying' in English humour.

The editor, Ian Hislop, who was present, knocked that down straight away by saying of Private Eye: 'Copied from the French magazine Le Canard Enchaîné, circulation 200,000. It doesn't wash, this.' Gill thought the English didn't seem to belong in their own country -- they seemed awkward in it. That seemed to me a pretty good description of Gill himself, particularly if you emphasise the first two initials of your name, making yourself sound like a motoring organisation. 'The English have a fantasy England they all live in; it's full of the Establishment, the class system and their great sense of humour and their fairness and their love of animals, most of which is completely untrue.' The film writer and actor Julian Fellowes said he couldn't come to terms with Gill's 'absolute loathing of the past'.

It seems to me that a healthy society has to strike a balance between having a respect for and interest in its own past and also an enthusiasm for its own future. …

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