Wednesday, November 19, 2008

National Gewgaws

posted by Brit. Bryan will be back very soon

Alas, the end of my time in charge of Bryan's blog is rapidly approaching. The audience is becoming restless, coughing and checking its collective wristwatch. The improbably-extended shepherd's crook is sneaking onto the stage ready to hook me by the neck and whisk me off... But with a jolt I realise that I have neglected a key element of my Thought Experiments Mission Statement: namely, to ensure that Malty is recognised as an official National Treasure.

Unfortunately, closer scrutiny reveals the true size of the task. Malty is, after all, far too cranky, controversial and, well, close to Scotland to fit the typical NT description (I'm sure there are a few Jocks on the list but beyond Connery and Corbett, I'm struggling.)

To qualify as a National Treasure a candidate must possess a certain sort of cosy invulnerability. A recognisable voice and a solid body of television work help (Attenborough, Dench), but the key thing is that his or her faults must be beyond criticism. Whether it be an inability to act (Connery, Moore, Caine, the other Attenborough) or dance (Sergeant), or perhaps an excessive prolixity (Fry, Motson, Madeley) or eccentricity (Patrick Moore, Madeley again), the NT character flaw is part of the package, producing a smile rather than a sneer.

At the opposite end of the scale are the National Anti-Treasures. These dregs of British public life are covered in detail here. However, my concern is with a different section of celebrity, as yet unclassified but which I shall call, for the sake of argument, National Gewgaws.

I do not refer to anything so trivial as 'people we love to hate' (Cowell, Goody, Mandelson). Rather, National Gewgaws are those figures whose failings and flaws are our flaws, familiar but magnified, accepted but not forgiven. We must follow their trials and tribulations in sorrow, sympathy and rage, mockery and guilt. They are shameful, they are consoling. Winehouse and Charles clearly fit the bill. English sportsmen are riddled with the yips, and so English sport is riddled with Gewgaws, Henman being perhaps the ultimate. Marks and Spencer is of course the Gewgaw of retail, every season and half-year profit statement bringing fresh disaster or triumph, and we must all share in the agony.

Malty, I think, will never attain true National Treasure status, but he may yet join the ranks of the Gewgaw. It is, in any case, a far more interesting class of lunatic.


  1. You have given me another bright idea. How about a list of "treasures" or people not dead yet but we will be very sad at their passing. Sort of the "a few words" at the wake sort of thing, that the "treasures" get to hear?

    John Noakes springs to mind with his near tearful display on the weakest link answering the Shep question, Rolf obviously qualifies as I don't even have to say his surname, everyone loves Rolf, But malty? Sad yes, but a few words?

  2. Well yes, Malty fails as a National Treasure if you are only going to use the BBC's definition of a NT, but we use a higher methodology, don't we?

    Natural Law asks, nay, demands that Malty be recognised as an NT and, since he probably doesn't want to come down south from his Northumbrian fastness and we can't therefore take Blenheim off the undeserving Marlboroughs, I recommend we give him Cragside, 10,000 acres and enough capital to see his family through to the tenth generation.

  3. Methinks Malty will make an excellent warlord in the post-apocalyptic times soon to come.

  4. I love Malty; glad you are putting him on a pedestal, all the better for him to launch his glorious barbs at those who deserve skewering!

    Your other national treasure is Bill Nighy. Are you gonna honor him, too? J'espere que oui!

  5. NO like me he is from "Up North" and like me wish respect rather than estates, especially when given to him by southern folk patting him on the head like he is some kind of bairn.

  6. Passer by

    It can't be denied that it is a bit patronising of us Southerners, but a) he's big enough to take it I'm sure, b) for what's on offer you could patronise me all day long.

    I know that the NT himself has declined ancestral estates and oodles of moolah and merely requested a reconditioned Ava Gardner as his due recompense. Unfortunately I've tried to get her in that state for him but have found it impossible to get the taint of Sinatra off her.

  7. Having spent most of the day at the Scottish nationals Gerhard Richter exhibition and therefore bathed in that warm afterglow achievable only after hours spent in the presence of heaven on earth I am in a forgiving mood. I therefore offer to stand down from the race to the top of the NT list. I, like John-Baryshnikov-Sargent am one of life's true sportsmen.
    If any of you southern shandy drinkers call me a gewgaw I'll come down there and rip your frocks.