Monday, November 15, 2004

Not So 'Olde' Englande

News this week that the story of the centuries-long presence of ravens at the Tower of London is a tale of fairly recent origin. Nothing new there, then. For many of our ancient ceremonies, so beloved of traditionalists, are relatively recent inventions.

That grand medieval pageant, the State Opening of Parliament, was invented at the beginning of the last century as a piece of public relations for the monarchy. (Yes, they were desperately trying to justify their existence even then.) Queen Victoria, after all, hardly left the Palace after Albert died and she was generally reviled by the public.

The daily ritual of the Speaker's Procession at the House of Commons is even more recent, having been invented after the last war when the Commons chamber had been rebuilt. Prior to that, the Speaker just poppped through a door behind his chair. When the rebuilding work made it necessary to take a circuitous route, the Speaker of the time thought it undignified for him to go schlepping round the corridors like a member of the hoi-polloi and created a big production number for himself and the other men in tights. Once the rebuilding work was over and this time-consuming fancy-dress Hokey Cokey was unnecessary, they were too addicted to the smell of the greasepaint and the roar of the crowd to give it up.

There's a story that, when Neil Kinnock was still an MP, another member spotted him across the Lobby during the Speaker's Procession and shouted "Neil!" Several dozen American tourists instantly dropped to their knees.


At 11:15 AM, Blogger Sal said...

Similar, too, the vigorously defended UK tradition of "Chucking-Out Time", which was created in WWI to force the pubs to shut early to reduce the previous tradition of regular all-nighters then hangovers, and thereby improve factories' output.

At 12:00 PM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

That same WW1 legislation was responsible for creating the illegal all-nighter, or 'lock-in', of which I have some hazily remembered experience. Think you've just given me an idea for a blog post! Thanks.


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