Hope & Glory – The Days That Made Britain

Hope & Glory – The days that made Britain
By Stuart Maconie
Ebury Press – £11.99

I’ve read all four of Stuart Maconie’s books, and I have to say, all four are fab, forensic, fetching and occasionally very funny (now there’s a description).

Indeed, he who not only knows his Robert Plant from his stonking donk from his very early Bruce Springsteen, herein waxes lyrical on all things of an acute, English persuasion. From Queen Victoria (‘We Are Not Amused’) to Bobby Moore (‘They Think It’s All Over… It Is Now’), from the Battle of the Somme (‘Some Corner Of A Foreign Field’) to the Queen’s Silver Jubilee (‘She Ain’t No Human Being’), Maconie effortlessly and amusingly regales the reader with varying inflammatory undercurrents, of what it means to be a part of Great Britain. Or a part of its history at least.

That’s not to say it’s all bangers’n’mash’n’white-van-man-induced. Far from it. If anything, Hope and Glory is completely polar to that of today’s so-called Broken Britain. It’s the sort of book that it reminds one of a time when there was a little bit of hope left in the country. The result of which was well-earned occasional glory, and dare I say it, genuine pride – rather than an unspeakable culture of phone-hacking and blame and far too many slappers on the front page and what’s in it for me fella. But that said, concurrent culture of lost opportunity, ought hardly be surprising given the diktat from above; not to mention the vile and soulless manner in which such ghastly institutions as the royal family, the banks and so many of today’s corrupt politicians, continue to conduct themselves.

Writing in the final chapter (‘Things Can Only Get Better’), Maconie sheds substantial light on that of the latter in particular: ‘’May 1997 […] changed the way politics is covered and discussed. Tony Blair took politics out of the hard news ghetto and put it on Richard and Judy’s sofa. Politics is now an adjunct of light entertainment, one where Vince Cable, a PhD in Economics and one of the men charged with designing and implementing the toughest cuts in public spending, finds time to go on the telly, not debating the pros and cons of fiscal stimulus and quantitative easing but prancing about on a celebrity edition of Strictly Come Dancing. Can you imagine Churchill singing with Flanagan and Allen, Nye Bevan in The Goon Show, Harold Wilson saying ‘Bernie, the Bolt!’ on The Golden Shot, Thatcher trying to remember the teasmade and sandwich maker on The Generation Game? The welcome advent of a new relaxed democratic culture? Not for me. It’s the Cowellisation of politics.’’

The mere fact that Simon Cowell’s name has now entered the English language is, in and of itself, a destitute, pathetic, and utterly heartbreaking sign of the times. To be wholeheartedly reminded of a by far better time – when Britain could actually claim to be a trifle on the great side – read this book. Not only is it erudite and enriching, it’s rather reminiscent of The Royle Family in that you just don’t want to end.

David Marx

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