Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Columnist Keith Hann

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Columnist Keith Hann

Article excerpt


HAT sort of country have we become? WSome of us were moved to ask this question by the public hysteria following the death of Princess Diana.

Surely nothing could be further removed from Britain's traditional stiff upper lip than the huge roadside crowds weeping and wailing, hurling flowers with such vigour that they risked causing a further serious accident by obscuring her hearse driver's view.

The urge to grieve in public seems to have increased as belief in the after-life has diminished. Nearly every fatal road crash now generates a roadside shrine of fading flowers, cuddly toys, candles, crash helmets and football shirts, and woe betide anyone who suggests tidying them away.

It's not just recent fatalities that move us, either. Witness the huge upsurge in public engagement with Remembrance events, including the observation of a two-minute silence on Armistice Day.

An event that passed largely unremarked as I was growing up in the 1960s, when substantial numbers of World War I veterans were still alive.

However, our love affair with the dead and remembrance has surely reached its apogee in the bizarre performance surrounding the re-interment of the supposed remains of King Richard III.

Part theme park carnival, part religious ceremony, the overall effect can surely only be considered ludicrous, and the level of media coverage it has attained beyond absurd.

All it has lacked so far is Tony Blair choking back tears as he pronounces: "He was the people's tyrant".

But was he? On Sunday evening I was amused by a reported comment from the historian David Starkey likening Richard III to Gordon Brown. Both manoeuvred for years to seize a crown, but had little idea what to do with it when they got it, and failed to hold it long.

No sooner had I repeated this mild jest on Twitter than I received an angry rebuke not from a Labour loyalist but a pro-Plantagenet, accusing me of falling victim to "Shakespearean propaganda".

Sure, Shakespeare appears to have exaggerated Richard's curvature of the spine into a hunchback, and if the case of the princes in the Tower came before a Scottish court the verdict might well be "not proven". …

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