We Bri­tish al­ways mud­dle through some­how

The Daily Telegraph - - Saturday Comment -

Who­ever tries to deny that we English are a nos­tal­gic lot ought to go and see Rowan Atkin­son’s lat­est, pro­foundly silly flick, Johnny English Strikes Again. So­phis­ti­cated it isn’t – but we English are also not quite as eru­dite as we like to think.

Johnny English is a se­cret agent in the clas­sic mould, put out to pasture be­fore his time, then un­ex­pect­edly called back into ac­tion. Un­touched by the era of smart­phones and #Metoo, he is the per­fect ri­poste to the ever-sleeker, ever-more sen­si­tive and tech­no­log­i­cally cut­tingedge James Bond. English has no clue how to use an ipad, he snorts in the face of vir­tual re­al­ity and he likes his mo­tors gas­guz­zling and loud, even if they do run out of juice mid car chase.

The mes­sage isn’t ex­actly sub­tle. Bri­tain mud­dles through, de­spite its clue­less, supine politi­cians and creak­ing nu­clear sub­marines. For­tu­nately, the mes­sage also isn’t the point and Mr Atkin­son is true to his adage that noth­ing should get in the way of a good joke, not even his own dig­nity. I’d rather watch a whole scene of him danc­ing than an end­less, high-oc­tane car chase any day.

An­other fa­mous Bri­ton ap­par­ently un­touched by #Metoo Johnny Tra­volta: Rowan Atkin­son never lets his dig­nity get in the way of a good joke is Sir Philip Green, who has landed him­self in hot wa­ter by hav­ing a Top­shop dis­play on fem­i­nism ripped down shortly be­fore it was due to open. The teen cloth­ing store was all set to start selling copies of a new set of es­says on fem­i­nism by var­i­ous celebri­ties (Keira Knight­ley, Emma Wat­son and so on) when the mon­strous bil­lion­aire ghoul him­self pulled the plug.

Pic­tures of the dis­play had al­ready been posted on­line. “Fem­i­nists don’t wear pink, fem­i­nists don’t wear makeup, fem­i­nists don’t like fash­ion,” it stated, with the “don’t” crossed out. Ger­maine Greer it ain’t.

Twenty min­utes later, the book pub­lisher, Penguin, an­nounced that the Top­shop deal was off. “This book aims to prove that the word ‘fem­i­nist’ is ac­ces­si­ble to ev­ery­one,” it stated. “To­day’s events sug­gest there is still some work to do.”

“He’s hor­ri­ble – he’s the epit­ome of the old model of how peo­ple with brief­cases act,” the ed­i­tor of the book com­plained. She might have a point here. Sir Philip (do we still call him that?) is be­hind the times in a way that the canny ex­ec­u­tives be­low him might not be. Fem­i­nism isn’t so rad­i­cal any more. It sells.

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