Login Register

The Brits are coming – and we had better be posh

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: September 29, 2012

Comments (0)

Monocle? Check. Plummy accent? Check? Top hat? Check. Well, you're ready to be embraced by the American public. At least that's what David Cameron's appearance on US television now means our suitcases will need to contain to meet their expectations.

The Prime Minister drew mild derision from the British Press after an impromptu pub quiz set by American talkshow titan David Letterman to mark the first time a serving PM had ever appeared on his show. The PM didn't know who composed Rule Britannia. Nor could he answer what the literal English translation was of Magna Carta. I say the derision was mild chiefly because many of us would have been sympathetic. I'm pretty sure the hacks who mocked would have been straight on the internet to check the answers, rather than recalling from memory. Most of us would do the same. Moreover, the PM had the added pressure of knowing millions of eyes were on him, waiting for a pratfall. Sure, he could have guessed the Magna Carta was translated as Great Charter. But the well of inspiration would run dry for almost all of us with the world's most tricksy interviewer in view. And who wrote Rule Britannia? Few would have plumped for James Thomson, and set to music by Thomas Arne (DC chose Elgar instead).

So, this side of the Atlantic, Smart Alecs of Britain had a field day. Surely an Old Etonian should ace a test on classical music and Latin? Back there, though, the reaction was very different. The New York Times' Mike Hale said Mr Cameron "did very well, he done you proud" and suggested the American news machine would be far less obsessed with the slip-ups than us Brits. The Letterman Show, while influential, is the preserve of the Liberal elite, rather than the masses. Many of the soundings taken from average Joes on the street suggested they were quite taken by Mr Cameron, the vague bumbling reminiscent of Hugh Grant – the archetype of Britishness in the minds of the vast majority of our American cousins.

For me, this was the most significant aspect of the performance, chiefly because next month I'll be spending three weeks in the States and I can almost guarantee David Cameron's name will be raised every time I open my mouth. Not exactly how I envisaged my honeymoon.

I say this as someone who spent a summer on the east coast of America, earning a crust as a professional Englishman. A student exchange programme almost a decade ago dumped me and three friends into a seaside resort. It was the US equivalent of Blackpool, though the streets were cleaner, the weather better and dental hygiene a higher priority. For reasons that remain unclear, we secured employment in a photography studio that specialised in dressing up bored families in historical costumes. Or "old time" as they called it. The operation was a front for selling cheap picture frames at exorbitant prices. The sepia-tinted shots of the Smithson family dressed as Tommy gun-totting gangsters and molls (not exactly Henry VIII, but hey) were presented in frames that cost 50 cents to buy but sold for $5. Rip-off wasn't the word.

Yet my friends and I played a key role in the confidence trick. It didn't take long for the old miser running the show (catchphrase: "I gotta eat this winter") to realise he'd hit pay dirt. Stick one of the British buffoons at the front of house and watch the money roll in.

The man was a genius. I couldn't sell a glass of lemonade to Lawrence of Arabia, but in this environment I would have made Sir Alan Sugar proud. Customers were fascinated by the accent. Had I met the Queen? ("Of course"). Where is Liverpool, where I was studying? ("Close to London. About 150 miles north"). Can you say "groovy" for me? ("Er, only if you buy a frame"). By the end of each day we felt thoroughly exploited. Two of my pals quit within two weeks to work for a store that only sold kites. With that knowledge, I think our Prime Minister did just fine. Better than fine. Mr Cameron makes Hugh Grant seem like a peasant, so has probably upped the ante in terms of how Americans expect us to behave when on the other side of the pond. Probably best to pack a morning suit for our trip next month.

Read more from Western Morning News

Do you have something to say? Leave your comment here...

max 4000 characters