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What Has Happened to My Beloved Britain?
Last uploaded : Monday 22nd May 2006 at 02:50
Contributed by : The Editor


Editor's Note 25 May 2006:
I used a minicab service today and the driver told me this was his third 'replacement car' because his previous two had been vandalised by his neighbours. This new one had a long scratch across the side. He told me his neighbour -- in leafy Hampstead! -- had 'keyed' it. This means running a key along a car to cause damage. These are grown men. These are Englishmen....

What Has Happened to the Britain I Came To?


Much has been said in recent years about the decline in standards of public behaviour in Britain, from loud conversations on mobile phones to foul-mouthed aggression in shops and incidents of road-rage.

This green and pleasant land has changed so much since I arrived from the United States in 1976 that I often feel as if I am suffering a bereavement as I tread the streets of London and the Home Counties.

I was inspired to write this article by an editorial in ‘The Evening Standard’ by the novelist AN Wilson. He is not one of my favourite writers and his views in the past on America and Israel have been poisonous. However, on this he and I will agree: British identity is slowly disintegrating. He blames this on the huge wave of immigration that has resulted in the complete dismemberment by liberals bent on 'mulcitculturalism' and political correctness of our traditional, common cultural identity.

The novelist PD James went into considerable detail on this subject when she appeared on ‘The South Bank Show’ on British television several weeks ago. She was deeply disturbed that the nation no longer revolves around respect and affection for the monarchy, the church, the police and a ‘common language.’ She further lamented the disappearance of common cultural values and aspirations.

Nothing encapsulates this more than the vile ‘The Mint’ programme which screams out at us every night on British television. An assortment of mean-looking young men and -- dare I say -- tarty-looking females shout at us to spend 60 p a call and join a competition. I have tried this on numerous occasions and have never been able to get through. The voices that ring in always sound the same ‘Tracey from Stevenage’ and ‘Cynthia in Glasgow’ -- might it be a con? That is for someone else to determine but the cheesy ugliness of this programme is a further dredging of the depths of the lowest levels of British society.

I was an executive with British television during the ‘Golden Age’ of network Drama. The men and women with whom I worked were the crème de la crème of British talent. They were all university educated and expected me to be conversant in every aspect of high culture. One could not compete in the world of television drama or documentary in those days unless you were well-versed in opera, symphonic music, theatre, ballet, literature and current affairs. Now, it appears that the people running television can barely spell or speak English or have any knowledge of the highest forms of British cultural aspiration. Anglia was known as the Rolls-Royce of ITV and I considered it an honour to be employed there, despite the many thoughtless comments about my Jewish roots, but that is another editorial.

Anglia, like so many other British television companies at that time, produced magnificent Drama and factual programmes and we took immense pride in competing with the superb products from Granada, Thames, Central and other ITV companies, not to mention the BBC. I doubt the splendid and gracious men and women who appeared on the BBC in those days made the utterly obscene salaries being paid to the ill-mannered Jeremy Paxman and (I think) mediocre Jonathan Ross. With total snobbishness I can say that in my era Mr Ross would never have progressed beyond tape library file-keeper.

Let us get down to brass tacks. I see British society disintegrating when I am shoved aside boarding a bus by large, uncouth men wielding strings of beads and pushing their women in front of me. I remember when we queued. I remember Lord Buxton and Sir John Woolf tipping their hats to the female employees at Anglia Television, where I worked for ten years with the most civilised and well-bred British people ever born. No man -- or woman -- at Anglia would have been seen dead shrilly ordering me to leave my seat on a bus to allow a terrifying-looking, aggressive woman in black from head to toe and her children -- children! -- sit where it clearly says the seats are for the elderly and disabled. When I first arrived in Britain I loved the way children always stood or sat on their mums’ laps on buses.

I also loved the congenial bus conductors with their neat uniforms and quaint key and leather pouch, calling us ladies ‘Madam’ and ‘Miss’ and tipping their hats. Now we get wild-looking bus drivers who practice drumming on their steering wheels and stop this only to be abusive to passengers. London bus drivers know nothing about British traditions of courtesy, let alone anything about places of interest and simple landmarks. Our Mayor thinks nothing of snarling abuse at reporters and calling the American Ambassador a ‘chiselling little crook.’ Such behaviour would have been unthinkable just thirty years ago.

Most days that I venture out I am struck dumb by the rudeness of Londoners. Even when I go out of the city I am astounded by the ill-mannered behaviour of people who serve the public. Last year I went to the Edinburgh Festival and have never had such brutal treatment and visceral verbal abuse as I did from two cab drivers. The general atmosphere in the town ranged from grim to outright hatred of visitors. Why do I have to go to Philadelphia, Washington or Atlantic City to be treated like a human being?

When I came to Britain people went to church. Religion has become the butt of unprecedented ire and sarcasm in the media. A new British disease of hatred and suspicion of those who choose to have faith has become widespread and scares me. Hitler, Stalin, Marx and Mao deplored traditional organised religion. Need I say more?

I blame television and radio for much of the decline in civilised British discourse. The advent of Gordon Ramsay, Anne Robinson and the cruel, crass and grating panels of ‘judges’ on competition shows add to the lethal mix. Yes, Howard Stern and Donald Trump are American phenomena and are meant to be ruthless and, in the case of Stern, abusive, but it seems to me that British culture is deteriorating much faster than is its American counterpart.

Last month I went into a London pub next door to the location of one of the July 7th bombs. I was treated like dirt by the publican and the patrons refused to talk to me. It made me wonder why I ventured over here in the first place in 1976. But in 1976 Britain was an example to the world -- a light to the nations -- in manners, cultural activity and great achievements in every field -- and now it is a ghost of that majestic nation. Can it be restored? I think not.

I’d rather be in Vermont, where people still say please and thank you, where chaps step aside for ladies and -- believe it or not -- men tip their hats.


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