Historic day today as the Green Ribbon Club, in effect a senior history society, has its inaugural meeting: Jeremy Paxman on Empire. An admirably lucid, trenchant and wonderfully wide-ranging talk which has as its premise the importance of Empire to the national psyche – its lasting legacy on the way that we think and act – both as a nation (whether that is through the overseas military adventures of Thatcher and Blair) and as individuals. Jeremy’s talk is also a strong advert for history, which he says we should all be interested in because it is about people and people are intriguing – how can you not be interested in people and therefore history? Some good debate afterwards over the game casserole (which itself might have provoked some). Has the accident of Empire made the UK more or less familiar with the world and, for example, with immigrants? Has it really coloured our attitude to Europe? Is killing people with drones worse than killing them with spears?
Jeremy’s talk deals much with the idea of the imperial hero – or the person that imperial folklore establishes as such – running from the piratical Henry Morgan, through the avaricious Clive to the much painted Gordon (who, we discover, changed into a white uniform before his impaling on the steps at Khartoum). All this even provokes me (at home, later) to get out my magnificent antique Kitchener propaganda poster which, celebrating the shortly to be drowned icon of the FWW recruiting poster, has Kitchener’s avenging of Gordon as one of the pictorial credits. Meanwhile, for those who want to connect a talk on heroes of the past to the sound of breaking icons, Lance Armstrong crashes further down as he emerges as a wizard with the mysteries of doping, rather than cycling hero; Savile’s originally heroic volunteer hospital portering is now looking like a vile ruse for systematic grooming and child molestation and Kagame, once the hero of Rwanda, is back in the news because of UK aid. How about an undisputed heroine? Try, Malala Yousafzai, the 14 year old Pakistani girl who dared to speak out against the Taliban and is in hospital after she was shot in the head by the them – “an icon of courage and hope”, said Pakistan’s army chief – difficult to disagree with that.
By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools
Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.