Due to popular demand (that is about three people asking me) I’ve posted the lyrics to the NUS version of Les Mis.
DISCLAIMER: The post will make almost no sense at all to those who don’t have some knowledge of the workings or culture of the National Union of Students.
In fact, it’ll probably only appeal to the small crossover segment of a Venn diagram showing people who have both an interest in NUS and an encyclopaedic knowledge of the musical Les Misérables – which, as I found yesterday, is a surprising number of people.
To give a bit of background for anyone still reading, there’s a nice tradition within NUS that departing officers give leaving speeches, thanking people and reminiscing about particularly important, moving, or often just ridiculous happenings during their time in office.
These are not just your typical office leaving speeches of a few thank-yous in the pub after work, but often great bursts of oratory, carefully crafted beforehand over months or even years, and taking up to 45 minutes each to deliver.
My dear friend Dannie Grufferty, leaving NUS this year after two years as their Vice President for Society and Citizenship (with a remit which essentially covers all societal and global issues), told me she worried such speeches could verge on the self-indulgent – so instead she wanted to write a stage musical. She didn’t add ‘that was a joke by the way’ but I’m sure she was being ironic..
I was initially dubious, but Dannie can be quite insistent in an imperious Elizabeth I sort of way, so eventually I gave in and we hammered something out based around everyone’s favourite nineteen century humanist masterpiece Les Misérables (Which I’ve previously raved about).
Nineteenth century novels are clearly ripe for adaptation, as one Christmas past, Dannie and I also wrote an NUS Christmas production; A JISCmas Carol.
The piece was actually performed at Sheffield City Hall yesterday (very much an off-Broadway production), and met with a
rapturous raucous reception – one person tweeting that it was better than the Conference itself. (A comment which can be taken two ways..)
A lot of the lyrics are highly in-joke heavy, for example the age-old accusations in NUS that members of Labour Students are all ‘careerists’, or NUS Chief Executive Matt Hyde’s departure for The Scout Association. A lot of them might also require a good working knowledge of the original English Les Misérables lyrics for full appreciation.
Any deficiencies can of course entirely be blamed on the fact we were adapting a reworking of a translation of a French text based on a novel…
Sadly, given lack of time a few ideas fell by the wayside. I was sorry for example we didn’t do a version of the epic Act I Finale One Day More based around NUS factions – though it may be for the best given the amount of time I spent trying to rhyme FOSIS with something that wasn’t ‘halitosis’.
Left-wing firebrand Michael Chessum being unavailable also robbed Conference of the sight of him in the role of Enjolras – though luckily amiable token Tory Peter Smallwood stepped in at the last minute to sing the rabble rousing lines.
Huge thanks are also due to the rest of the ram-shackle recruited cast, who out of love or possibly fear of Dannie Grufferty had the courage to risk humiliation by taking part – including Rachel Wenstone, Vicki Baars, Jeni-Marie Pittuck, Jo Johnson, Adrianne Peltz, Stacey Devine, Pete Mercer and Liam Burns.
Also to everyone else how helped out; Seeing one member of NUS staff that afternoon I asked enthusiastically ‘Have you heard about the plans for Dannie’s leaving speech?’ ‘Yes.’ they said flatly ‘We had to move a grand piano.’
The main credit should really go to Lewis Coakley (FRSA), the pianist virtuoso who did all the work of fitting the music to Dannie and my lyrics.
Perhaps you had to be there, but I maintain that Dannie’s ‘I schemed a scheme in time gone by’ solo would have brought a tear [of laughter] to the eye of Victor Hugo himself.
[With many apologies to Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schonberg, Jean Marc-Natel, and Herbert Kretzmer]
At the end of the day
At the end of conference you’re another day older
And that’s all you can say for the NUS staff.
It’s a struggle, it’s a faff
And there’s nothing that anyone’s giving
One more day counting ballots. You’re having a laugh
If you think this is living.
At the end of conference you’re another day colder
A campaign T-shirt doesn’t keep out the chill
And delegates hurry past.
They don’t hear the staff members sighing.
And the guillotine’s coming on fast, ready to kill
Well that’s what we’re relying.
At the end of debate there’s new debate dawning
Each morning there’s speakers waiting to rise.
Like the waves crash on the sand
Like a storm that rolls through the ocean.
There’s a hunger in the land
For another procedural motion.
As factions try to get their way
By the end of the day!
At the end of conference you get nothing for nothing
only chatting and profiling will get you ahead.
There are students back at home.
And the students have got to be fed.
And you’re lucky to be on a course.
Filling your head.
While we’re counting your ballots.
[RACHEL (grabbing Dannie's phone)]
And what have we here, little innocent comrade?
Come on Dantine, let’s have all the news!
[Reading the email on her phone]
“Dear Dantine, thanks for joining New Labour…
You must have a safe seat…
There’s no time to lose…”
[They fight over the phone. Valjean (Liam) rushes on to calm things down and put them back in their box.]
What is this heckling all about?
Will DPC tear these two apart
This is a conference not a demo!
Now, come on comrades, why the stress
I run a movement of repute
I’m President of NUS,
I look to you to sort this out
Follow due process if you can-
Now someone say how this began!
At the end of the day
She’s the one who began it!
There’s a seat that she’s hiding
In some little town.
There’s an MP that she sees
You can guess what she does at the weekend.
You can bet she’s earning her keep
And the boss wouldn’t like it!
Yes it’s true there’s a seat,
But it isn’t a safe one.
And it isn’t affecting
My work day to day.
Would anyone turn down a seat if they gave one?
I’m not a careerist
So drop that cliché!
At the end of the day
She’ll be nothing but trouble.
And there’s trouble for all
When there’s trouble for one!
While we’re earning our daily votes
She’s the one with her eye on a safe seat.
You must send her away
Or we’re all gonna end on the doorstep!
And it’s us who’ll have to pay
At the end of the day!
I might have known there’d be some seat.
I might have known a VP plots.
You officers always have secrets.
Ah yes, the ethical Dantine,
You think yourself so pure and green.
You’d be the cause I had no doubt
Of any trouble hereabout.
You play a lefty in the light.
But you’re a Blairite on the right.
She’s been laughing at you
Though her Soc and Cit reign!
She’ll be nothing but trouble again and again!
You must Censure her today!
Censure here today!
At the end of the day!
Right you’re no-conned. On your way!
[All Exit. Dannie is left on stage]
I schemed a scheme
There was a time students were kind
When their voices were soft
And their words uniting.
At the time delegates would find
That NUS was a speech
And the speech was exciting.
There was a time
Then it all went wrong.
I schemed a scheme in time gone by
When hopes were high
And votes worth winning.
I dreamed EMA would never die
I found all demos liberating.
Then I was young and unafraid
Placards were made, and used, and wasted.
There were no high fees to be paid
No campaign song unsung, no champagne socialism, untasted.
But the Tories come at last
With spending cuts as hard as thunder.
As they tear our hopes apart
No matter how much we cry ‘Shame!’
He spent ten years by my side.
He filled my days with Blairite wonder.
(But on Iraq some say he lied)
And he was gone when Gordon came.
And still I dream he’ll come to me
That we will lead this land together.
But there are comebacks that cannot be
And some reforms we cannot weather.
I had a dream my life would be
So different from this Coalition.
So different now from what it seemed
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.
[The revolutionary students enter]
At the ABC (NCAFC) Cafe
At ULU the feeder march is prepared!
At parliament they’re straining at the leash!
Students, workers, everyone
This demo can run and run.
Like the stage occupation we tried
ULU coming to our side!
The time is near
So near it’s stirring the blood in their veins!
And yet beware,
Don’t let the champagne go to your brains!
For the NUS leadership is a dangerous foe
With the bureaucracy that we never can match.
It is easy to sit here and condemn their lies,
But the Presidency will be harder to snatch.
We need a sign
To rally the people, to send to their phones,
To text them the line.
At ULU we’ve recruited three new members!
At SOAS someone brought a paper!
Twenty flyers good as new!
(JO, as Gavroche, rushes in shouting)
Twenty paper rounds for everyone!
Listen to me!
Double that in Freshers’ Week!
The NUS Chief Executive is leaving!
For the Scout Association!
[Everyone gasps. Peter stands transfixed in shocked silence]
Matt Hyde is dead….to us
Matt Hyde! His death is the hour of fate.
He’s gone – it is the sign we await!
At his leaving party they will honour his name.
It’s a rallying cry that will reach every ear!
In the death of Matt Hyde we will kindle the flame.
They will see that the day of salvation is near!
The time is near!
Let us welcome it gladly with courage and cheer
Let us take to the streets with no doubt in our hearts
With a jubilant shout
They will come one and all
They will come when we call!
[DANTINE to Matt]
Take my hand
And lead me to The Scout Association.
Take my votes,
For votes are everlasting.
The truth that Vic has spoken:
To organise your students is to see the face of god.
[Singing begins quietly and gradually builds as more and more people join in.]
Do you hear the people sing?
Singing a song sure to excite
It is the music of the students
Who are fighting for what’s right.
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There’s a demo about to start
When tomorrow comes!
Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Beyond the barricade
Is there a world you long to see?
Then join in the fight
That will give you the right to be educated for free!
Do you hear the people sing?
Singing a song sure to excite
It is the music of the students
Who are fighting for what’s right.
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a demo about to start
When tomorrow comes!
Will you give all you can give
So that our banners may advance?
Some will slink off to the pub
Will you stand up and take your chance?
The streets of South London
Can mirror the meadows of France!
Do you hear your NEC?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade is there a world you long to see?
Do you hear the people sing?
Say, do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that they bring when tomorrow comes!
UPDATE: To coincide with Matt Hyde’s last day at NUS, the full music video is now available, prior to its release in cinemas.
A couple of bootleg versions have already been circulating, of which the best is this one from Charles Barry (a delegate from Newcastle University Students’ Union rather than the architect of Italinate stately homes and the Palace of Westminster).
I’m always been vaguely intrigued by the political journey of politician, turned ubiquitous TV talking head, Michael Portillo.
Back in the distant mid-90s past he was an uber-Thatcherite Cabinet Minister, in which capacity he appears in Gyles Brandreth’s entertaining and gossip-drenched political diaries as the coiffured-haired crown prince of the Tory Right.
Following his shock loss of his seat, which defined the 1997 election as entered the political election as the original ‘Portillo moment’, he re-emerged as a Conservative moderniser, before seeming to lose his appetite for politics, after the further humiliation of being denied the Conservative leadership by Iain Duncan-Smith (which has gotta hurt).
Apparently Portillo had become so disillusioned by the final round of the 2001 leadership election he didn’t even vote for himself. He was knocked out by a single vote.
I think, for devotees of political counterfactuals, it’s arguable that had he taken a role on the front-bench, and been willing to do some of the donkey work of opposition he could have made yet another come back. He would have been a good position to take over the leadership when Iain Duncan-Smith imploded in 2003, or indeed to have been the modernisers’ candidate rather than David Cameron in 2005. Instead he withdrew from front-line politics, becoming one more of those former future Prime Ministers, who somehow missed the political train.
I also enjoy his more prosaic journeys around Britain for the TV series Great British Railway Journeys which is a winning mix of genuinely fascinating information, and wonderfully awkward moments as Portillo attempts to engage fellow commuters in conversation.
There’s something very British and Betjemanesque about his ambling about provincial towns, usually sporting some shade of burgundy or lilac, cheerfully repeating his opening gambit ‘I’m travelling around using a nineteenth century guidebook!’ to politely baffled locals.
But the show wouldn’t be what it is without Portillo’s biting wit and dazzling way with words. I was reminded of all this, apropos of nothing, on seeing that Youtube oddities connoisseur, Jon Harvey, has compiled a tribute to his best (worst) puns, which fellow fans of the show might enjoy:
I particularly like how he carefully emphasises each joke, perhaps to signal he hasn’t lost his train of thought or become side-tracked.
It’s good to see he hasn’t run out of steam.
To the dismay of some of my friends, I’m unashamedly an enormous admirer of Winston Churchill.
Unlike Britain in 1940, I know I don’t stand alone in this, and it’s hardly an original enthusiasm. You could easily fill a library with books glorifying ‘the Greatest Briton’ – only a dozen or so of them written by Churchill himself.
A major part of the man’s appeal is of course his stirring quotations and how, in the words of Edward Murrow [or Beverley Nichols depending on which attribution of the quotation made famous by President Kennedy we favour], ‘he mobilised the English language and sent it into battle’.
In short, I like a good Churchill quote as much as anyone.
However I did find The Sun newspaper’s use of a Churchill quotation on their front page today rather out of place.
The newspaper carried a picture of Churchill and the quotation;
“A free press is the unsleeping guardian of every other men that free man prize; it is the most dangerous foe of tyranny. Where men have the habit of liberty the Press will continue to be the vigilant guardian of the rights of the ordinary citizen.“
This neatly allowed them to use the headline ‘D-DAY’ referring to the showdown of MPs voting on alternative proposals for press regulation, which didn’t actually take place after the parties reached an agreement in the early hours of the morning, after The Sun went to press.
(At least like the original D-Day the battle was postponed due to unfavourable conditions.)
The quotation was then seized upon and repeated by David Cameron, wishing to portray himself as a Churchillian populist guardian of the free press, in the Commons.
[Incidentally, although I can find the quotation frequently on the internet, I can’t find a source or citation other than that Churchill said or wrote them, as The Sun says, in 1949. I had thought they might be from a Commons speech responding to the 1940s version of the Leveson Inquiry, the Royal Commission on the press which reported in 1949, but Hansard brings up nothing.
Perhaps it’s a quotation from Their Finest Hour the Second Volume of his history of the Second World War published that year?]
While I can understand why The Sun would want to feature Churchill as an archetypal defender of freedom, and then cast around for a suitable quotation to go with it, he’s an almost comically unsuitable bearer of their anti-press regulation message.
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, to my mind, had many virtues, but being a staunch defender of a free press is not one of them.
I’m sure others have pointed this out throughout the day, but it’s worth a quick churning though some Churchilliana to show just want a misleading picture of his record The Sun’s front page paints.
Between January 1941 and September 1942 Churchill’s wartime Coalition Government banned the communist newspaper The Daily Worker (the forerunner of The Morning Star), and throughout the war all newspapers were subjected to Government censorship being prevented from covering news, including the bombing of schools or anti-war marches, thought likely to damage morale.
The suppression of The Daily Worker could not have come as a huge surprise given their staunch opposition to the war effort, rather dubiously ditching their previous anti-fascism in favour of attacking an ‘Imperialist War’, following the line from Moscow after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.
Even the then Manchester Guardian agreed with the ban, noting in an editorial how The Daily Worker had given ‘extreme provocation’ and concluding that the paper ‘did not believe either in the war or in democracy; its only aim was to confuse and weaken. We can well spare it.’
Churchill remained convinced of the need to censor the press in war time. During the 1956 Suez Crisis, a year after his eventual retirement as Prime Minister, he wrote his successor Anthony Eden a note, in which he identified the key problem that;
“We have a long delay when our intentions are known. The newspapers and foreign correspondents are free to publish what they choose. A censorship should be imposed.”
[This despite both himself and his son Randolph having made their careers as foreign correspondents.
‘Note, Private’ quoted in Martin Gilbert Winston S. Churchill, Volume VIII: Never Despair, 1945-65, London: Heinemann, 1988, pp.1203-4.]
Much less easy to defend are the events of June-July 1953, when a seventy-eight year old Churchill, mid-way through his second term as Prime Minister, was incapacitated by a stroke.
The public were not informed that the Prime Minister was desperately ill, or more seriously that their Government was essentially directed for weeks by Churchill’s staff and his son-in-law Christopher Soames.
As Churchill’s loyal Private Secretary, and dazzling diarist, Jock Colville recalled in his classic Diary account The Fringes of Power;
“I could not obey Churchill’s injunction to tell nobody. The truth would undoubtedly leak to the press unless I took immediate defensive action. So I wrote urgently and in manuscript to three particular friends of Churchill, Lords Camrose [owner of the Allied Newspapers Group], Beaverbrook [owner of The Daily Express & Evening Standard amongst other papers] and Bracken [publisher of The Financial Times & The Economist amongst others. Also thought to be a model for George Orwell's Big Brother], and sent the letters to London by dispatch rider. All three immediately came to Chartwell and paced the lawn in earnest conversation. They achieved the all but incredible, and in peace-time possibly unique, success of gagging Fleet Street, something they would have done for nobody but Churchill.
Not a word of the Prime Minister’s stroke was published.”
Colville goes on to describe how ‘for the best part of a month’ ‘my colleagues and I had to handle requests for decisions from Ministers and Government departments entirely ignorant of the Prime Minister’s incapacity’…As Parliamentary Private Secretary, Christopher [Soames] was in a curious position…he was not in principles supposed to see Cabinet Papers or secret documents…However, in the unusual circumstances prevailing, it seemed to me that, whatever the rules might be, Christopher should be given access to many papers he was not supposed to see, including Cabinet papers.
Before the end of July the Prime Minister was sufficiently restored to take an intelligent interest in affairs of state and express his own decisive views. Christopher and I then returned to the fringes of power, having for a time been drawn perilously close to the centre.
For the next two years the distance between the fringes and the centre was far shorter than it had once been.”
[See Jock Colville, The Fringes of Power, Downing Street Diaries, Volume II: 1941-55, London: Spectre, 1987, pp.329-30.]
As Churchill’s biographer, the inexhaustible Sir Martin Gilbert, breezily comments how Churchill was helped by “the discretion and skill of three men, his Principal Private Secretaries, Jock Colville and David Pitblado, and his son-in-law Christopher Soames. It was Soames, the only Member of Parliament of the three, who, quite unobtrusively, took a hundred decisions in Churchill’s name, without once breaching the trust which such a heavy responsibility involved”.
[Gilbert, Never Despair, p.859.]
To paraphrase a constitutionally outraged Toby Ziegler, for a month that year there was a coup d’état in this country.
But luckily due to Churchill’s personal friendships with (literal) press barons it was never reported.
In short The Sun should save their gratuitous Churchill references for when they want to praise David Cameron’s vetoing of European Union treaties. I’m sure the man who advocated a United States of Europe would approve.
It’s fair to say Winston Churchill’s attitude towards a free press was at best inconsistent and not his finest hour.
I’m afraid blogging has been anorexically light over the last couple of weeks, mainly because I’ve been busy with a couple of big projects at work, meaning my evenings feel reminiscent of this classic Simpsons clip.
However given the number of people who’ve kindly taken the time to keep checking back here, I really must make more time to post things, and have a few ideas up my sleeve (along with a watch and some fluff) for the coming weeks.
In the meantime, should anyone be desperately having withdrawal symptoms from tangent historical anecdotes I did appear on Radio Sheffield this morning.
I was on the ‘Rony’s Friends’ section of Rony Robinson’s programme in which a panel discuss the day’s news (I can’t believe they missed a trick in not calling it ‘Rony’s cronies’).
It was the first time I’d been on the show in that capacity, so on being told before hand we’d be discussing the issues of the day, I hastily tried to work out some nuanced opinions on Latin American geo-politics or the state of the vacant Vatican.
I needn’t have worried, as the news Rony focuses on tends to be a bit more light hearted – including favourite anecdotes about queuing, given the queues for tickets ahead of Saturday’s FA match in Barnsley, and the likely sex of the royal baby
However, along with fellow guest Janet Blackburn, who has the rather enviable job of managing Haddon Hall, we managed to shoehorn in various references, only extremely vaguely related to the headlines – ranging from Queen Victoria to Keira Knightley via Gilbert and Sullivan and the histories of Haddon Hall and the University of Sheffield.
Should anyone still be interested, the programme, at least for the moment, can be found here.
We’re on from 35.40 onwards.
For completism I’ll note that I should have taken up Rony’s bet that the statue of Edward VII which stands, usually crowned with pigeons, in Fitzalan Square isn’t Sheffield’s only Royal Statue.
As my colleague Heather reminds me there is a statue of Queen Victoria in Endcliffe Park, which the excellent ‘Public Art in Sheffield’ pages on Sheffield Hallam University’s website tell me is even by the same sculptor, Alfred Drury.
I also now remember, and the Victorianweb site confirms, there’s at least one statue (I think two) of Queen Victoria on the exterior of Sheffield City Hall, along with a rather weary or condescending looking bust inside.
If anyone knows of any more Royal statues or busts in Sheffield – George III, Elizabeth I, King Arthur…do let me know.
Local papers, forever fighting an uphill battle to fill space, do come up with some wonderful stories, which deserved get picked up further afield.
A particular recent favourite [spotted by my friend Jamie Wroe is from The Bournemouth Daily Echo – ‘I’m stuck with 10 000 Lance Armstrong DVD’s to shift‘.
This tells the sad story of a ‘Poole entrepreneur’ who bulk brought 10 000 DVDs of cyclist Lance Armstrong, a man for-ever destined to have the word ‘disgraced’ prefixed to his name – like Neil Hamilton.
The ‘wheeler dealer’ had hoped to resell them at a higher price, but sadly purchased them just before Mr. Armstrong admitted having used performance-enhancing drugs and cheating his way to winning the Tour de France.
As he usually benefits from others’ misfortune, buying up and reselling the stock of bankrupt businesses and says ‘This is one of the few things I’ve managed to buy that has come back to bite me’ it’s hard to find the story anything other than funny, particularly when it includes such choice quotes as:
‘I was hoping the problem would die down and I would be able to find a home for them. Now I don’t think I would get a tenth of the money back.’
‘I could make a tower or build a big dominoes track for my three-year-old.’
‘Armstrong has had a good life for the last 20 years. I just wish he had either kept his mouth shut a bit longer or not done it in the first place.’
I’m sure Lance feels the same.
Of course the readers of the Bournemouth Daily Echo dutifully rally round with typically helpful and sympathetic comments:
“Always sell them off as coasters. Bit risky buying that amount when an investigation was going on.”
“What ever you do Don’t go on dragons den. I’m out.”
“Yeah, I know a couple of blokes who’d take ‘em off your hands: Del Boy and Rodney”
“Oh well you have always got 10,000 black DVD cases you could always flog? Be quick though burning DVDs is on the way out”
and such wisdom as
“Fair play to Lance Armstrong for riding a bike on drugs. I tried it once and hit a dog and fell off.”
I wrote must of this piece on Monday, 4th February when Richard’s bones were found, but have only just got round to finishing it and posting it – always the first with the breaking news.
(The title is an inaccurate but fitting quote from Shakespeare’s Richard III as used by Walter Scott for one of the epigrams in Ivanhoe.)
This morning I played my own small part in the media circus surrounding the rediscovery of the body of King Richard III by archaeologists at the University of Leicester.
While Channel 4 may present popular archaeology shows fronted by Tony Robinson, BBC Radio Sheffield relies on his near namesake – Sheffield institution and general polymath Rony Robinson.
I was interviewed on his radio show, giving my reaction to Richard’s re-emergence, along with osteologist Linzi Harvey from the University of Sheffield’s Archaeology Department offering her expertise in bones and John Mann, MP for Bassetlaw, offering a wonderfully passionate/shameless case for why Richard’s skeleton should be reinterred at Worksop Priory in his constituency.
We offered some thoughts on the discovery, sandwiched between such appropriate music choices as Dem Bones.
(I was only surprised they didn’t have a topical reworking of The Funny Bones theme ‘In a dark, dark town, there was a dark, dark carpark…’)
If you’re interested the recording is up here (at least for the time being)
The discovery is discussed throughout the show, and I’m on at 21.40 and again at 1.49.40.
[Rony’s show is easy enough to do given as one colleague said ‘He laughs uproariously at anything!’
I tried in my rather brief appraisals of Richard’s record to strike a balance between the ridiculously evil devil incarnate portrayed by Tudor propagandists, and the sentimental, saintly figure depicted by some of his defenders.
I’m not sure how much I succeeded – coming down a bit too much on Richard’s side, presenting him as a lovable ne’er-do-well; ‘Of course he had a few of his enemies murdered, but which of us hasn’t done that.’ etc
But I genuinely meant it when I claimed that ‘This is the greatest day for the Plantagenet cause since the Battle of Tewksbury’.
News of the archaeologists declaring ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ that the skeleton is Richard’s instantly went international, and the last Plantagenet King of England was soon the subject of chatter and jokes at water coolers and watering holes across the world.
To me all this publicity is great for the debate around Richard, and for increasing awareness of Medieval History. I think historians have to be honest and admit this find will do more to ignite interest in the prototype Game of Thrones saga of The Wars of the Roses than a thousand academic books and journal articles could.
Such a discovery is also great for the discipline of archaeology showcasing the depth of the field (or indeed car park), and for Leicester itself, putting both the City and the University onto the world’s front pages.
I doubt the University of Leicester’s Archaeologists will have much difficulty demonstrating their ‘research impact’ in next year’s REF.
As prince of the Higher Education wonks, Mark Leach, put it ‘Breaking: Public value of education discovered under a car park in Leicester’.
Knowing how academia often contains as much jostling for tradition as any Medieval court, I did find myself momentarily thinking ‘If you were working on other research at the University of Leicester just how fed up with Richard III would you be now…’
Most of all, however, this week where Richardian references were everywhere has made me ponder the continued public interest in Richard III, and why this might be.
Of course I’ve no more idea than anyone else why public interest, which can be as fickle as the false, fleeting, perjured Clarence, has maintained a fascination with the ill-fated monarch over the centuries but I’d hazard a guess at a few possible factors:
The very fact that he was doomed and ill-fated is intriguing. There’s a sentimental romance and glamour that clings to a lost cause, whether it’s Jacobites pining for Bonnie Prince Charlie, Yorkists for Richard
or Republicans for Mitt Romney.
There’s an undying debate around Richard’s record and character – was be a villain and a tyrant or a virtuous man and just King unfairly maligned?
People always even joining such a debate and picking partisan sides, rather like the arguments over whether Saul in Homeland or Snape in Harry Potter (pre-the Seventh Book) are good guys or bad guys – stretched over half a millennium.
The debate comes complete with the classic murder mystery – including the conundrum of whether there was even a crime – of The Princes in the Tower. Were they murdered? By whom? If not where did they end up?
The truth is of course lost in the mists of time, thicker that the fog at the Battle of Barnet, but this hasn’t stopped generations enjoying trying, and failing, to solve this mystery of history for centuries.
Depictions of the princes as wide-eyed, golden-haired innocents, straight out of a Millais painting have only added to the comic book villainy of traditional interpretations of Richard.
This depiction of Richard as a cartoonishly evil figure has also ironically helped ensure his memory lives on. As King John, or the executive Producer of the millionth ‘Great Dictators’ documentary for the History Channel, will tell you – there’s much more marketing potential in a villain than a dull saint.
Whichever side of the debate you’re convinced by, Richard is a colourful character, and probably one of few English Monarch’s instantly recognisable to than yeoman in the street. The larger than life, controversial Richard III and Henry VIII still charge their way through popular culture and bestride the history curriculum like a Holbein portrait, whist the well-governing bureaucrat Henry VII between them vanishes in comparison.
The facts (if such they be) of his life appeal to the Ladybird Books school of History, while many people vaguely remember the strong images of his story, taught at school or picked up through cultural osmosis – the poor little princes locked in the tower, their Uncle, tormented by the phantoms of his victims, screaming in his sleep on the eve of Bosworth, Richard personally killing the ‘poor old man’ Henry VI while he kneels in prayer, and overseeing Clarence’s drowning in a butt of Malmsey wine, before meeting his dramatic end crying ‘A horse! A horse! My Kingdom for a horse!’ within striking distance of killing Henry Tudor and winning the war. (As the rainbow itself tells us the colourful Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain.)
The crown of course rolls into a gorse bus where it is picked up, given to Henry Tudor, who immediately marries Richard’s niece, and unites the nation in a stroke of design genius by delighting both feuding houses in the War of the Roses with the Tudor Rose Logo.
(I suppose had he used different PR consultants he could have united Richard’s white boar and the Tudor’s Welsh dragon as a flying pig…)
If nothing else Richard would maintain a place in pub quizzes as the last English King to die in battle, and indeed the first since Harold Godwinson at Hastings in 1066. If we believe the Tudor chroniclers’ tales of his murdering Henry VI and the boy Edward V, he would also, I think, be the only King to kill two of his predecessors – though I’m open to being contradicted.
The manner of the discovery is bound to be the latest chapter in this memorable tale of Richard, and ‘the King in the car park’ does make an excellent addition to the story.
Richard’s royal status inevitably also plays a part in fuelling interest. Catherine Fletcher, from the University of Sheffield’s History Department, strikes a note of caution amidst the enthusiasm, detecting an element of historical hierarchy and snobbery in the interest around the discovery, featuring as it does ‘celebrity and royalty’.
She does have a good point – if the skeleton had turned out to be a 15th century equivalent of the unknown soldier, interesting as this would have been, it would have been lucky to get much publicity beyond a ‘News in Brief’ paragraph in the BBC History Magazine.
As in so many of our national identity, Shakespeare was a major influence in shaping our picture of Richard, and the villainous version, guaranteed to please his Tudor patrons, depicted in The Tragedy of King Richard the Third, is probably the biggest reason of all Richard remains so well remembered.
Famous actors across the centuries from David Garrick to Laurence Olivier portraying Richard and refining the stereotype have also been largely responsible for his imprint on popular culture.
This stereotype has also proved self-sustaining, with such performances, particularly Larry Olivier’s, being constantly parodied, memorably by the two Peters – Sellars and Cook; Peter Sellar’s performing a wonderfully sinister cover of The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night in the manner of Olivier’s Richard III, and Peter Cook providing some brilliant cod-Shakespeare in Beyond the Fringe (Performed here with Jonathan Miller, Alan Bennett, and Terry Jones as a worthy stand-in for Dudley Moore at the first of Amnesty International’s Secret Policeman’s Balls in 1976), and of course years later in the first episode of Blackadder.
Richard’s rediscovery with its saturation media coverage inevitably produced some good jokes (and some terrible groan-inducing ones)
I particularly liked the twitter account @HMRichardIII (which had about 500 followers when I checked on Sunday before the findings were announced and now has over 8000) where our late lamented King provided commentary such as:
Looking forward to a good catch up with my nephews. Oh….wait.
The two Princes may or may not be buried underneath the Swindon branch of Lidl. That’s all I have to say on the matter.
500 years in a wooden coffin. Talk about splinters of discontent.
Burying people in multi-storey car parks. That’s wrong on so many levels.
I wonder if Chris Huhne could get his wife to pay my parking fines for me.
My jokes are like my legs – lame.
Whatever the reason, Richard III is clearly embedded even deeper into our national consciousness than he was under a Leicester car park.
And whether through a mawkish love of celebrity and spectacle or a noble desire to comprehend the past, I did feel a bit of a thrill seeing images of him, knowing this is the first time he’s been seen in nearly 528 years.
As a lover of historical what-ifs I’ve also found myself idly wandering this week just how different England and the world would be if Richard had won the Battle of Bosworth and remained King?
The answer is of course nobody has a clue but its intriguing to speculate…
There would have been no Tudor dynasty and no King Henry VII or King Henry VIII. In fact there would have literally been no Henry VIII as his parents would never have married. Though given the rumours in the last year of his life that Richard planed to marry Elizabeth of York it’s quite possible a future King of England, sharing half Henry VIII’s genes could have come to the throne around the same time.
Without Henry VIII of course there would have been no single, dramatic break from the Church of Rome, and it’s quite possible England would still be a Catholic country today, subjects perhaps offering a prayer during mass for the royal Saint Richard of York.
There would almost certainly be no established ‘Church of England’ whatever the national faith.
Broadly speaking, most histories will tell you that Henry Tudor brought relative stability to England, uniting the warring Houses of Lancaster and York, providing children and a clear line of succession which had been sorely lacking, and growing the treasury through years of shrewd management and scooping up taxes with Morton’s fork.
We could assume that if Richard’s reign had continued this stability would have been missing and the Wars of the Roses might have continued.
Though it is at least arguable that stability and peace might have been attained a different way.
Richard might have united managed to unite the country, either through clever politics and strategic marriages, or by shear force having won the battle, killed Henry Tudor, and supressed the House of Lancaster.
If Richard had won in 1485 the House of York would have held the throne continuously since 1461 (apart from Henry VI’s sad and sorry second reign for five months in the winter of 1470-71), and with every year the likelihood of a Lancastrian revival could have faded.
Richard might also have reigned King a long time, being only 32 when he died at Bosworth. (His Father also died a violent death, like his father before him, but his mother lived to be 80 so it’s not fanciful to imagine a triumphant Richard ruling well into the 16th century, by which time the civil war would be long forgotten.)
Had he triumphed at Bosworth it’s fair to assume one of Richard’s first priorities would have been to remarry, (after his wife’s death the year before) possibly to Princess Joan of Portugal, and produce a ‘son of York’ to succeed him.
We might also assume the Treasury would have recovered under Richard, if a period of peace could have been provided, given many of Henry’s policies were built on initiatives begun under Richard. He had also presided over the Council of the North before becoming King, which can be seen as overseeing early attempts at regeneration or prototype-Keynesian economics, aimed at boosting the North’s economy which had never quite recovered from the devastation wrought by the Harrying of the North after the Norman Conquest.
If Richard had remained King might the North-South divide now be reversed and the country’s economic hub be – perhaps – York under the shadow of the even larger Minister Richard intended to fund?
Another fascinating point to consider is whether a hypothetical post-1485 King Richard would have listened to a Genoese gentlemen who visited England in 1488.
Christopher Columbus, during his long quest to finance his crazy sounding scheme to discover a new world, or at least sail to Asia, dispatched his brother Bartholomew to the English Court seeking patronage. Bartholomew was received by Henry VII and the King was intrigued by his plans but eventually they didn’t pass his risk assessment and he refused to put up the cash.
The Columbus Brothers eventually received capital from Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain and the rest is history…
Had England had a King less fiscally prudent than Henry, say with a history of taking brave gambles and sanctioning investment in large projects, South America could well have been claimed for England generations before the Pilgrim Fathers and others colonised the North.
To sound a bit like a Ladybird Book, for once it’s no exaggeration to say the course of History as well as the King changed with the slash of a sword (or it now seems the blow of a battle-axe) on the 22nd August 1485.