Mendacious Brideshead

An inspirational skipper.. an English performance.. passion and commitment.. an English manager.. playing the game the English way..

“BBC World Service. The News, read by Roger Collinge…” The warm brown tones trickle out of Bush House like honey from a jar: rich and resonant on the Long and Medium Waves for domestic listeners or bright and sibilant on the Short Wave for a hundred million Anglophone citizens of the world for whose benefit the precious signal is bounced off the ionosphere from relay station to relay station, through ionospheric storms and the rude jostling traffic of a hundred thousand intrusive foreign transmissions, to arrive fresh and crackling on the veranda table. Oh, to be in England, now that England’s gone. This World Service, this little bakelite gateway into the world of Sidney Box, Charters and Caldecott, Mazawattee tea, Kennedy’s Latin Primer and dark, glistening streets. An England that never was, conjured into the self-deprecating style that in its dishonesty is brassier and brasher than Disneyland. Stephen Fry in Arena magazine, 1980s

Whatever the discourse on the football pages has been about since Sven, it hasn’t been about football. Oh, it thinks it’s about football right enough – but that doesn’t stop it from being sepia-tinged fantasy.

I found myself thinking about sepia photographs the other day. Take a good, recent black and white digital image, and slap on the sepia filter – and it won’t look Victorian or Edwardian: something will be wrong. There hasn’t been those ninety years deteriorating in a cupboard – nor ninety years of constant, miniscule yet irreversible changes that between them put that old world utterly beyond our reach.

Did sepia photographs look “wrong” when they were new? They certainly looked different. The colour we see today is the result of fading over time. The toning itself was done to improve the stability of the print, to increase its resistance to deterioration, not to apply a nostalgic “look”.

I’d thought that Britain had gotten over its nostalgic phase. That Merchant Ivory/Brideshead stuff:


At some point in the 1990s, Britain seems to have taken a collective decision to drop the post-Imperial hang-up and just get on with living.

Even football began looking ahead. The mid-90s saw the beginning of the non-League revival, the establishment of the Premiership, an air of optimism around the England of Venables and Hoddle, the arrival of foreign players en masse and foreign coaches.

That’s all over now, isn’t it? Football has gone back to its own mendacious Brideshead.

It’s been trying to for a while: the World Cup is only the opportunity taken. Remember why Kevin Keegan got the England job – it was all that rubbish about inspiration and passion then, too. His period in office should have been a Scopes Trial for football Brideshead, for Fry’s “England that never was”.

This England:

(Incidentally, that’s a good angle, not usually seen – and there are shades of Argentina v Serbia and Montenegro too, aren’t there?)

Even then, we would grasp at straws for the opportunity to lie to ourselves:

A pyrrhic victory. Two months later, England, skippered by Wolves captain Billy Wright, lost 7-1 to Hungary in Budapest. So much for the street footballers who were close to their fans, loyal to their clubs, playing with passion and commitment under an English coach; so much for all that. At least the real Brideshead made decent television.

1 Reply to “Mendacious Brideshead”

  1. A little rich, surely, for the convicted criminal Stephen Fry to complain of “dishonesty”. Dear God, he probably describes himself as an actor on his passport, which also comes close to dishonesty.

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