Go on, sport, pay up !  In the name of Her Majesty.

Somewhere out there is a vaguely Left-wing Aussie professor who owes me a hundred bucks. The only trouble is that I can’t remember his name, so I am shamelessly using this column to jog his memory.

Come on, cobber. Cough up. You remember the bet. It must have been about 20 years ago that we were all sitting in a bar in Melbourne, drinking prodigious quantities of Victoria Bitter. I was then a visiting professor of European Thought at Monash University. (I know, I know: I want to thank the academic who invited me for his excellent sense of humour, and I continue to regret that he was mysteriously deprived of his post shortly after my last lecture, a frenzied dithyramb of unreconstructed Euro-scepticism).

On that particular evening, I was teasing some of my colleagues about their ever-so-slightly correct way of thinking. There was a scholar of gender studies and a theorist of animal rights, and there was some tut-tutting when I suggested that Aboriginal art could not really be compared in quality with, say, the masterpieces of the Florentine Renaissance. But what really got them going was when we moved on to the constitution. Tell you what, I said: I bet you the Queen is still the Australian head of state in – and I paused, trying to think of a date so far in the future as to make the bet seem fair – the year 2000! A throaty cackle went up from the group. “No way, mate,” they said, republicans to a person.

I shook hands on the wager with one of them – an expert on Saussure, I think – and we even wrote it down. The wretched thing is that I lost the bit of paper, and by the time 2000 rolled round, with the Queen still firmly on her throne as the constitutional monarch of Australia, I had forgotten all about it. In fact, I might never have remembered at all, had I not been sitting yesterday in a crowded Putney Odeon, watching the afternoon showing of The King’s Speech. At one stage Logue, the voice coach, reminds the future king that he is about to reign over Australia, and I thought, strewth – it’s still true. We are now some way into 2011, and Her Maj occupies the same position in Oz (and Canada and New Zealand) as her father. That’s incredible, I thought – and where’s my $100?

There are all sorts of reasons why the film is so gripping, and why it deserves to win every Oscar going. Director Tom Hooper has done a quite brilliant job. Colin Firth is wonderfully plausible in conveying the tortured duty of George VI. Geoffrey Rush gives a Shakespearean quality to the voice coach – a Fool-in-Lear who is both impertinent and achingly loyal. As the king’s coquettish wife, Helena Bonham-Carter reminds us of the key political role once played by the woman most of us remember as the beaming old Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. The whole thing is a triumph, and you will find tears pricking your eyes if not pouring down your cheeks when we get to the climax, and the King manages more or less without a hitch or a stammer to read his first wartime broadcast to the nation. We see him walking out of the Palace studio to the acclaim of his staff; we see them clapping at the BBC; we see huge crowds cheering in the Mall, and for a second you are invited to ask yourself, why? Why do we feel so proud and so moved? For heaven’s sake, the fellow has only succeeded in semi-competently reading a few pages of typescript into a microphone. He didn’t even write it. Why is it so important to us that he should overcome his b-b-b-blinking stammer and discharge this routine task? The answer, of course, is that he is the King, and at the outbreak of a terrifying war he incarnates the nation, its hopes and fears, in a way that no one else can.

My old chum Jonny Freedland of The Guardian wrote a lovely piece the other day, in which he brooded on the success of The King’s Speech, and the fascination with royalty that still exists – as he was forced to concede – in the hearts of the people. Many years ago, Freedland wrote a first-rate polemic called Bring Home The Revolution, in which he called for Britain to adopt the republicanism of her American progeny. It hasn’t happened. It won’t happen. There isn’t a cat’s chance in hell of it happening. In a way that is both irrational and astonishing, human beings still seem to respond to, and respect, the concept of hereditary transfer of authority. I don’t just mean in African tribal systems. Look at the supposedly socialist and egalitarian systems of Korea (father to son) or Cuba (brother to brother).

Look at Syria (father to son). Look at Egypt, where the crowds have just woken – under the influence of Tunisia – to interrupt what would have otherwise been the narcotic transition from Mubarak the elder to Mubarak the younger. Look at America – revolutionary, republican America – where for the last 20 years politics has been dominated by two families, the Bushes and the Clintons, and where there is now talk of Jeb Bush succeeding his father and brother.

In many of these cases, the family transitions are, of course, outrageous to democracy, but they reflect a weird superstition, a prehistoric yearning that still exists in our species. That is why the dualism of the British system is so cunning and so effective. The kings and queens of Britain are no longer called upon to do, but to be.

Prince William will not take any executive decisions about emptying dustbins, let alone war and peace, and that is frankly a thoroughly good thing. But people all over the country will recognise that his wedding is an event in the life of the nation; and in spite of all their cynicism, Jonny Freedland’s legions of Guardian readers will be unable to stop themselves buying royal wedding mugs and dishcloths and watching the whole thing on TV with an inexplicable sense of pleasure. As for whether William will be King of Australia – I certainly wouldn’t bet against it.

~ · ~

Boris writes for The Daily Telegraph on Mondays.

19 thoughts on “Go on, sport, pay up !  In the name of Her Majesty.”

  1. Cor, strewth and stone the crows. That pommy Mayor of London has got his head screwed on right !

    Seriously, well said and well written, Mr Johnson.
    I dearly hope that Prince William will, one day, become King of Australia, after a very long reign by his Grandmother and a successful and long reign of his father, who I believe will also make an excellent monarch.

    Cheers mate.

  2. I don’t read the Grauniad – I find it a tad right wing, but I certainly shan’t be buying memorabilia, or watching the tosh on the telly, unless twitter is particularly good that day. I know these people are close cousins of yours, Bozza, but there activities are of even less interest than the posturings on East Enders or Celebrity Cauliflower Hurling.
    Long live the People’s Republic.

  3. Beggar the Republic, Vicious Scurra! With the exception of Boz, I’d rather have a hereditary monarch than a member of the political class as head of state any day. Wills is lovely, he’ll gently reform and revitalise the monarchy. I believe he is likely to be King Of Oz too.

    The only section of your piece I disagree with, Boz, is in respect of Aborigines. They’ve a remarkable culture. For instance, if the Australian local authorities had listened to the Aborigines over the past few centuries they would never have committed the same environmental folly that my local authority is hell bent on committing: building on and above flood plain. If the Australians had listened they would have sat up in the hills where the Aborigines advised then to build their homes, way above their recent biblical scale deluge, and watched the flood waters pass them by.

    Now, where’s my royal wedding tea towel?

  4. My, you do get into some strange places. You drinking with a coven of lefties at Monash – yes, Monash – University, even 20 years ago? You have astonished me, to an extent I wouldn’t have thought possible.

  5. To some people, especially the communists, the socialists and the left-wingers, royal families symbolise unfoundedly non-democracy, dictatorship and oppression ( look who’s talking?! ).

    To me, the English Royal Family symbolises freedom, democracy and fairness.

    This explains the ever-stability in Australia, New Zealand and Canada where the Queen is Head of State. And look at Pakistan and India ( and Russia, Afghanistan etc ) – just total chaos socially and economically and dictators undercover as leaders and presidents (!).

    Life in Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand are the ideal societies; the kind of ideal society which communists worldwide have been preaching to their people about but have never had any intentions to create for their countries, because communism simply and well-known stands for dictatorship and non-democracy ( and all the bad things that go with it ).

  6. Oh I’m going to put my feet up and switch the telly on now folks, and I’m going to p-p-p-p-pick up a Penguin !

  7. The British should think different as far as their British Royal family’s concern. The British Royal family is the only valuable British brand left of your country. It’s selling Everything inside Britain from history, culture, heritage, to tourism and everything go with it. Without the Royal Brand, Britain will lose it’s charm. To foreigners and the tourists at least.

    Unlike your banking industry which is bunch of thefts, The British family actually brings income for your country.

  8. Talking about Cuba, Fidel Castro, the Cuban communists and Che Guevara, folks.

    The revolution was carried out by several separate and independent Cuban guerrilla groups, including Fidel Castro’s communist group and Che Guevara was Castro’s right hand man.

    When the Batista government was finally overthrew by some of the Cuban guerilla groups, but Castro’s communist group was still far, far away from the capital Havana. By the time Castro’s group arrived in Havana, the fight had finished, the war was already over, Batista had fled Cuba, BUT cunning Castro and the communists somehow managed to grab all power for themselves.

    Che Guevara was an Argentine, not a Cuban. And in order to grab all power for himself and his family and to become a dictator, Castro ordered Che Guevara to leave Cuba and start another revolution in another banana republic ( Bolivia or somewhere in South America ) straight way, against Che’s wish to stay in Cuba and to start co-govern Cuba with Castro and the communists. But Che had no choice but obeyed Castro. ( Che was shot dead in the jungle later on ).

    After Che had left Cuba, Fidel Castro quickly made his younger brother Raul Head of Cuban Communist Party and Chancellor in charge of the country’s power and money – you can’t ask for more than that!

    After 50 years in power, Fidel Castro agreed to step down as President and ordered the Cuban Communist Party to make his younger brother Raul new President on 24.2.2008 to keep the Castro Dynasty going strong ( ! )

    Che Guevara was a fool who was used by Castro and the communists. Yet some “trendy” Western folks proudly wear T-shirts with Che’s picture on, without even knowing the story ( !!! )

    Revolution my a-a-a-a-arse!

  9. I have two words for republicans: “President Blair”. Or President Major, President Kinnock or, for that matter, someone from the people – President Katona, anyone? One either has to have an executive president, who then becomes tainted with the latest political scandal or bungle, or a figurehead. The latter is either a failed politician or a nonentity.

    Here’s am idea, though. We could elect our next monarch from among the Royal Family – the best of both worlds?

  10. Edna, with regard to trendy Che t-shirts; isn’t there a rather delicious irony in sharp-witted small businessmen cashing in on a dead revolutionary? And righteous right-on useful idiots shelling out for the merchandise? They are irony-free, just as Che is royalty-free.
    This must be the third generation of Che fans – and as the capitalist and shrewd observer of humanity, PT Barnum observed,
    “There’s one born every minute.”

  11. Ed love, to be honest with you I once went out with this man who was the spitting image of Kurt Cobain; but he didn’t know it – natural blond, tussled hair, sun-kissed skin, natural laid-back nature, natural habit of wearing scruffy-but-clean-and-smell-nice-clothes ( just like Boris’s ), occasional pot-smoking, music, pubs. Until one day he turned up proudly wearing a short sleeved, red T-shirt with that famous portrait of Che wearing a beret. We did go to town that afternoon, but after that I sent him to Bolivia to start his own revolution, love. I mean, nowadays in this internet-cyber age, it’s daft trying to be a pretentious urban guerilla whilst living comfortably in the West, surely?

    I’m not bad-mouthing anybody here, love, just between you and me ok? Well, I also have noticed that since Gordon lost his job, our Frumpy has ditched her Che Guevara beret, love. Oh what a relief. For a period, if you still remember, she and that socialist Carla were together busy painting the towns red with their Guevara berets like two guerilla wallies. Oh what a relief.

  12. Talking about communist memorabilias displayed as kitsch art or even highbrow art (?), folks.

    In a recent magazine interview with Elton John talking about his new baby son, some accompanied photos show the inside of his luxury LA flat with several massive original framed Chinese communist propaganda posters on the walls.

    Some other rich and ordinary Western folks even display busts of Lenin, Mao, Stalin… in their houses because they think these things are different, a touch of highbrow rebelling, anarchy (?)

    From time to time, we also see articles of holiday best buys in Western magazines and newspapers suggesting their readers on holidays in communist countries to buy communist memorabilias and use them as art at home (?).

    Of course, we all know the beauty of living in freedom in the free West is people have freedom of speech and expression which is always taken for granted. Meaning Western people have the right to display busts of Stalin, Mao, Lenin… these communist mass murderers and communist propaganda posters in their houses as subjects of art, or to worship (!), if they want to.

    But people living in communist countries are not allowed to hang, say, framed photos of American presidents, Mrs T… in their houses. If they do that, they will be arrested and sent to hard labour camps for being anti-the people, anti-the Party, anti-the country, for a few years.

    Now, the irony is the Western newspapers that suggested their readers on holidays in communist countries to buy communist memorabillias and use them as art at home, are the same newspapers that opposed Raul Moat’s family and friends leaving flowers at his death spot (?), they opposed his family and friends driving his coffin through the small village where he had shot dead some people (?). They also opposed his family and friends scattering his ashes into the village’s river (?). The reason? It was because he had shot dead some people in that village.

    Well, he shot dead some innocent people and the cops shot him dead back, in the same village, didn’t they?. And that should be the end of it. His family was, of course, entitled to send him off the way he had wished for.

    Every family has the right to lay flowers in public and bury their dead loved one the way they want to, no matter what their crimes were.

    Stalin, Lenin, Mao and other communist leaders in other communist countries murdered millions and millions of innocent people, yet some Western magazines and newspapers think memorabilias of those communist mass murderers are subjects of highbrow art.

  13. When I stated that I believe Prince William will make a wonderful monarch, I tactfully left the vexed issue of Prince Charles and duch unsaid. Having read the following, however:

    Prince Charles “is going to appear before a joint meeting of European Commission committees dealing with the environment, the internal market, energy and the like.”

    I can no longer hold my tongue. I would view the abdication of this pathetic excuse of heir to the British throne as a blessed relief.

    God knows I’ve tried, but I cannot even like this man, let alone respect him.

  14. Colleen, the Prince of Wales is evidence that the novels of PG Wodehouse are not, in fact, fiction.

    When one considers that quite soon he will be King, the question of the desirability of an elected head of state is germane. It seems to me that Queen Victoria and our Queen have been the most successful and popular in this position.

    So I imagine that if one were to draw up a job description for this post, one would seek a person who is,
    b)Does nothing that helps or hinders the elected government
    c)Has children

    Try it around your own dinner table. Give your guests this choice:
    Charles Wales, or Jo Brand?

  15. Ed, my guests would vote for Monty Python’s dead parrot in preference to HRH, at least the parrot maintains a dignified silence. I would vote for Princess Anne if all of the candidates were female. Anne would come a close second to Prince William if the candidates were of mixed gender. Anne and William would be loathe to undermine the constitutional role of the monarchy by interfering in politics. I can’t imagine either of them endorsing the loathed, corrupt and undemocratic EU and Commission or egotistically making themselves the story.

  16. I agree entirely about the stomach-churning notion of the Prince representing Great Britain at “…the loathed, corrupt and undemocratic EU and Commission”
    Wales is clearly the wrong man to send. Jeremy Clarkson, your time has come…

  17. On Tuesday The Melbourne Age ran London mayor Boris Johnson’s column from The Telegraph in London. This seemed an odd choice for The Guardian-on-the-Yarra, which invariably carries London columnists from The Guardian in London – in other words, the real thing.

    In his “Land of Hope and Glory” style piece, Mr Johnson opined:

    We are now some way into 2011, and Her Maj occupies the same position in Oz (and Canada and New Zealand) as her father. That’s incredible.

    Sure is. During the reign of George VI (1936-1952), Australian governments usually appointed English gentlemen to take the post of Governor-General and represent the Queen (Australia’s Head of State) in Australia. Not anymore. Also, Boris Johnson seems blissfully unaware of the passing of the Australia Act which was passed in 1986. It confirmed the status of the Commonwealth of Australia as a sovereign, independent and Federal nation.

    Then, in praise of monarchy, Mr Johnson continued:

    In a way that is both irrational and astonishing, human beings still seem to respond to, and respect, the concept of hereditary transfer of authority. I don’t just mean in African tribal systems. Look at the supposedly socialist and egalitarian systems of Korea (father to son) or Cuba (brother to brother).

    Look at Syria (father to son). Look at Egypt, where the crowds have just woken to interrupt what would have otherwise been the narcotic transition from Mubarak the elder to Mubarak the younger. Look at America – revolutionary, republican America – where for the last 20 years politics has been dominated by two families, the Bushes and Clintons, and where there is now talk of Jeb Bush succeeding his father and brother.

    What a load of absolute tosh. North Korea and Cuba are not true hereditary systems – just communist dictatorships. Likewise, Syria and Egypt are military dictatorships. And, in case Boris Johnson is unaware of this, Barack Obama defeated Hillary Clinton to win the Democratic Party nomination for the 2008 US presidential election. As for Egypt, well…

  18. Gravelly, President Obama is a direct descendant of British royalty: King Edward I of England. I don’t what you call that in Australia, but here we call it game, set and match.

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