Bad Eggs and Love Rats

By Vestey, Michael | The Spectator, February 14, 2004 | Go to article overview

Bad Eggs and Love Rats


Vestey, Michael, The Spectator


It's always a pleasure to hear the smooth, fruity voice of Leslie Phillips on the radio. He was in fine form presenting the first of a two-part series on Radio Four about the fictional and the real-life cad in Cads and Silly Asses (Tuesdays) even if I had to forgive him for hamming it up a little. He was anxious to point out, rather unconvincingly, that he had not played cads, merely 'lovable rogues'. A cad was a rotter, he said, both with women and money, and yet this character had been one of the most popular on the stage or screen for the best part of the last century.

In a clip from an old film, a woman asks her determined seducer, 'You're not married, are you?' He replies suavely, 'Of course I'm married. Every man who behaves like I do is married.'

Gustav Temple, editor of a quarterly magazine I'd never heard of called the Chap, defined the cad as 'really the polar opposite of the gentleman. He may embody some of the qualities of a gentleman, the dress sense, the impeccable grooming, the charm, the panache but with the one crucial element missing, which is a courteous attitude towards the ladies in terms of honour, dignity.' He thought that deep down women still harbour the mediaeval fantasy of the knight in shining armour, the cavalier coming on horseback and bearing them off to a castle. 'Of course in the cad's version it's more like being whisked away in a Triumph Herald to a dirty weekend in Bognor Regis.'

The comedy writer Linda Smith believed it was only the fictitious cad of camp sophistication that appealed to men and women. Most of life was rather dull and samey and so a cad seemed like some colourful tropical bird.

So where did the cad come from? Phillips speculated that the first recognisable, fictitious cads appeared in the 17th century in racy comedies, the rake and scoundrel of Restoration plays that marked the ending of Puritanism. The poor old cravat which we don't see much of these days was, said Temple, the cad's badge of honour, introduced into England by Charles II on his return from exile in France. I have a friend in Italy, an Italian in his late thirties, who loves all things English and who thinks we still wear them. He sports one but is not a cad.

Another sign was the pencil-thin moustache popular between the wars, and then suede shoes, which seems a bit harsh as you still see them worn. …

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