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Anchors to the past

January 1st, 1991

A letter to the Times which was published on 1st January 1991.

It is certainly a novel thought from the University of Strathclyde (Sir Graham Hill’s letter, December 26th) that there should be a five-year moratorium on performances of Gilbert and Sullivan on the grounds that they are too nostalgia-inducing and not conducive to our embracing “our future in Europe or elsewhere”.

No people is so constantly told of its own shortcomings as the British (especially the English), as Gilbert remarks in The Mikado – “the idiot who praises with enthusiastic tone . . . every country but his own”. Equally, I wonder if any other imperial power at its apogee would have tolerated in HMS Pinafore, let alone enthused over, the gentle mockery of its most prized instrument, the Royal Navy.

Certainly Gilbert would have had a field day with the pretensions of the European Community, with its nostalgic hankerings for an imaginary past – Charlemagne’s short-lived empire – its absurd passion for regulating everything in sight and the blind faith that this travesty of Europe somehow constitutes Britain’s future.

Far from being an anchor to the past, properly taught our huge achievements as a nation over many centures would be a springboard for the future, an inspiration for our young people, and an antidote to the crippling pessimism – now of epic proportions – infecting so many of our national institutions.

Certainly what is arguably our most successful national institution in the post-war period – the British Army – yields to none in its modern-day professionalism or its pride in its past battle honours.