The English were always Philistines, Sir Roy!

The English were always Philistines, Sir Roy!

Sir Roy Strong, the eminent English historian and former
director of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London,
has ridiculed the television programme ‘I’m a celebrity…
Get me out of Here!’ in a recent article in ‘The Daily Mail’.

“It made we feel utterly ashamed to be British”, he lamented.
For those of you lucky enough not to know what this programme
is about, let me explain. It chooses a number of celebrities and
puts them in an artificial situation. In the latest series they were
dropped in the Australian jungle and put through a number of
ordeals such as having insects poured on their heads!
As always there was a mixture of personalities with the emphasis
on young people of the opposite sex being together. These could
be relied on to use bad language, take off most of their clothes
or even have sex.

Sir Roy deplores that “the country of Purcell, Shakespeare,
Isaac Newton and Winston Churchill had sunk so low. It’s not
just that so many people watched ‘I’m a Celebrity’ (14 million)
and the vacuous behaviour of its victims, but that they actually
gloated over such puerile antics in their homes.”

Although Sir Roy Strong is an eminent historian, it is difficult
to understand his surprise at 14 million people gloating over
this gibberish. When he refers to “the country of Purcell,
Shakespeare, Isaac Newton” you have to giggle. When did the
majority of English show any interest or love of Shakespeare
(endured at school by the majority) or the classical music of
Purcell or the scientific theories of Newton? Anyone with
any acquaintance with English people will know that these
are the interests of the few, even the elite.

This is precisely the problem. On the one hand we have an elite
who enjoy these cultural pursuits, and on the other the vast
majority who are glued to their televisions watching ‘I’m a
Celebrity’ or soap operas such as ‘Eastenders’. However, as
an historian I am sure Sir Roy is aware of the origin of this
problem in the educational system at the end of the Victorian

The Victorians did not encourage education among the working
masses. They were employed in dreadful conditions in dangerous
factories, on low wages on the farms of big landowners and in
virtual servitude in domestic service. Added to this there was
the constant demand to fill the ranks of the army and navy to
maintain the largest empire in the world. In 1870 an Education
Act was passed allowing all children between 5 and 10 to go to
school. However, as their parents had to pay a small fee, most
children did not attend. Only in 1891 when education was made
free for children under 10 did the majority go to school. Even
then many did not, as their parents were poor and they preferred
to send them to work to earn income for the family.

The rich Victorians were happy with an uneducated underclass
which they could control politically. The legacy of this educational
exclusion of the majority continues to the present day in England.
Hence, the appetite for trashy television programmes such as
‘I ‘m a Celebrity’. I am afraid Sir Roy, the majority of English
were always philistines. The Victorian legacy has proved too
powerful to undo.

© John Lynch 2004

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