In our long and proud history many heroic Englishmen have held the hopes of the nation proudly on their shoulders.
Warriors such as Nelson, Wellington, and Bader have inspired stories of incredible bravery and courage. Whereas politicians like Wilberforce and Churchill have secured their place in legend.
Fiction though has thrown up figures who embody many of the traits the English hold dear in their hearts – integrity, resourcefulness, and of course the ubiquitous stiff-upper-lip. Like many heroes they succeed where lesser mortals would falter, and create an image of how we would all like to be. Others have the ability to stoically endure the hardships and utter confusion of this life, something many of us struggle to emulate.
So here’s a list of my top five fictional Englishman…let me know if you think differently.
Where would lovable idiot Berty Wooster be without the redoubtable Jeeves? As the clueless toff bumbles his way through a series of adventures and close shaves it is his unshakable valet that acts as a rudder in his ship, directing him to calmer waters. All this while making sure his master’s dinner suit is prepared and a miracle cure for a hangover is at hand.
Right Ho, Jeeves!
4) Sherlock Holmes
When not ensconced in his Baker street abode, playing on his violin while feeding his cocaine habit, the consulting detective could be found using his stunning intellect, and not inconsiderable knowledge of tobacco, to solve some of the most fiendish cases of the day. He was even good enough to warrant an arch-nemesis in the guise of Professor Moriarty, whose intelligence was almost as formidable as the great detective himself. With his faithful friend Dr Watson by his side Holmes became the benchmark for the modern sleuth.
He’s been portrayed in countless film and television adaptations over the years, but I must say that to me the ultimate Holmes was the one of Basil Rathbone in the 1940s series of films. No one else could rock the Deerstalker like that man!
3) John Steed
Now I know what you’re all thinking, surely James Bond was the perfect gentleman spy? Well, no. Bond, at least the literary version, was a fascinating and flawed character with a penchant for exotic cocktails, scrambled eggs, sausages, and getting himself beaten up on most of his missions. I LOVE the books, which are a far more interesting venture than the majority of the films, most of which have plot holes big enough to build a secret underground lair in. But for sheer class, grace under fire, and the ability to wear a bowler hat without looking like a complete idiot, John Steed (played by Patrick MacNee) is the chairman of the board.
More reliant on wit and intelligence than brute force and snazzy gadgets, John Steed regularly saved the world with a smile on his face. Plus the sexual tension and sense of repression between him and the rather delightful Mrs Peel served to illustrate another trait of English culture. All this during the swinging sixties – now there’s a man of quite inexhaustible self-control.
Just make sure you forget that the film version with Ralph Fiennes ever happened and everything will be ok…
2) Number 6
When Patrick McGoohan’s character resigns from his role as a British secret agent he suddenly finds himself kidnapped and imprisoned in the surreal setting of ‘The Village’. Here he is subjected to a series of attempts to get him to divulge the reasons for his sudden career change, each more stranger than the last. From village elections to virtual Westerns, Number 6 maintains a particularly English persona of word-play, polite manners, and subtle scheming. Let’s face it, any man who can finish a series by riding a rocking horse, presiding over the weirdest court case in history, then dancing on the back of a fake house loaded on the back of a lorry, and arrive at Westminster as if everything’s normal has got to be one of the most regal of all men.
Be seeing you…
1) Arthur Dent
Sure, there are more capable men, more heroic men, more interesting men, but if this is truly about the great Englishmen then Arthur Dent is the only sensible choice to head the list. You see Arthur is one of us. Steed, Number 6 – these are men of incredible fortitude and bravery. Holmes and Jeeves have phenomenal minds that they use to great results. Arthur, though, gives hope to us ordinary men. Faced with the fate of the universe in the balance, the destruction of his world, and worst of all losing the lady of his dreams to the double-headed sex god that is Zaphod Beeblebrox, Arthur responds in the only authentic way a true Englishman should – he tries to find a really good cup of tea.
He may be descended from a hotch-potch collection of telephone sanitizers and advertising executives, but despite this he prevails and gets to see more than any other man in the whole of history. Arthur is the ultimate under-dog, and there’s nothing the English love and respect more than that.