Sunday, 28 April 2013

Britain is still a country where the old Governor of the old Bank of England gets to choose the bank notes we all use

The 319 year old Bank of England has announced that the face of the 66 year old Sir Winston Churchill, who became Britain's Second World War Prime Minister 73 years ago, will feature on the reverse of the new design of a £5 banknote which will enter circulation in 2016.

The old man who runs the Bank, 'The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street' and who has the final say about who appears on the notes, 65 year old, Sir Mervyn King, said about his choice of the long dead Churchill that :
"Our banknotes acknowledge the life and work of great Britons. Sir Winston Churchill was a truly great British leader, orator and writer. Above that, he remains a hero of the entire free world. His energy, courage, eloquence, wit and public service are an inspiration to us all."

That he was a great orator and War leader is not in dispute. The speech he made at the start of the grievous 5 year war against Germany and its Allies, at three in the afternoon, as indicated on the clock, on 13th May 1940 with the words : " I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat" reveals his genius with words and sentiment.

But does he remain "a hero of the entire free world" ? I think not. I would hazard a guess that a large proportion of the free world and in particular, its younger citizens, have never heard of him.

Is he still an "inspiration to us all to us all" ? Again, I think not. It was all, a very long time ago.

Mervyn thinks that Churchill was an appropriate choice given Britain's current economic difficulties :
"We do not face the challenges faced by Churchill's generation, but we have our own. The spirit of those words remains as relevant today as it was to my parents' generation who fought for the survival of our country and freedom under Churchill's leadership."

The BBC report :

I have a personal reason for remembering the day Churchill died on 24th January 1965. I was due to read a passage from 'Corinthians' in the Old Testament, in the morning school assembly at Eltham Green Comprehensive School in South London, to an audience of 1,500 pupils and teachers on the 25th. As a 'senior prefect' it was my 'duty' to take the reading and in preparation I was word perfect.

You can see the lectern in the photo. It is in exactly the same position it was, on that morning 48 years ago.

Then, just before the assembly, the Head Master called me into his office and handed me a copy of the first volume of Churchill's autobiography, with the part where Churchill explained where, as a boy at Harrow School, he had developed his talent for language, underscored for me to read :

'By being so long in the lowest form I gained an immense advantage over the cleverer boys. They all went on to learn Latin and Greek and splendid things like that. But I was taught English. We were considered such dunces that we could learn only English. Mr. Somervell, a most delightful man, to whom my debt is great, was charged with the duty of teaching the stupidest boys the most disregarded thing, namely, to write mere English.

He knew how to do it. He taught it as no one else has ever taught it. Not only did we learn English parsing thoroughly, but we also practised continually English analysis.

Mr. Somervell had a system of his own. He took a fairly long sentence and broke it up into its components by means of black, red, blue, and green inks. Subject, verb, object: Relative Clauses, Conditional Clauses, Conjunctive and Disjunctive Clauses!

Each had its colour and its bracket. It was a kind of drill. We did it almost daily.

As I remained in the Third Form three times as long as anyone else, I had three times as much of it. I learned it thoroughly. Thus I got into my bones the essential structure of the ordinary British sentence, which is a noble thing.

Naturally, I am biased in favour of boys learning English. I would make them all learn English: and then I would let the clever ones learn Latin as an honour, and Greek as a treat. But the only thing I would whip them for is not knowing English, I would whip them hard for that'.

I left the Headmaster's office in horror. I would have no time to rehearse !

I mounted the stage filled with trepidation.
I was aware of my right leg shaking and was sure everyone of the 3,000 eyes fixed on me could see it.

I got through it.
I was 17 years old.

So the man who was "the hero of the entire free world" was the same one who believed in whipping boys hard for not knowing their English.

As I said Mervyn, Churchill came from a different age and like my reading in the school assembly : It was all a long, long time ago.

An earlier post about Churchill :

Friday, 30 July 2010

Britain is a country where you can buy the false teeth of famous old men like Winston Churchill

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