By now enough, probably too much, has been written and said about the prank calls made to the actor Andrew Sachs by Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand as part of a Radio 2 programme presented by the latter.
Far more interesting than the chorus of disapproval that has led to Brand’s resignation and Ross’s suspension for three months is the agency that brought about their downfall, the so called moral majority lodged in Middle England.
The term applies more to a state of mind than a specific geographical location and is used as a sort of shorthand for a type of stoic Englishness that is permanently at odds with all things fashionably metropolitan.
Middle England is both a derisive term used to denote small minded, cautious, lower case conservatism and to call up a mythic land of village cricket matches and old maids cycling to evensong through the mist by politicians who find themselves out of favour with the commentating classes.
Although it is mocked and appealed to almost daily middle England is seldom understood. Not least because it troubles the fashionable few by resolutely standing by those unfashionable, but necessary, values that make a society civilised.
Hard work done for the reward of a fair wage, quiet patriotism that is undeceived about Britain’s failings but chooses to emphasise the country’s good points, treating people in the way you would wish to be treated yourself and that most definitively English of all concerns, fair play.
None of this is the least bit ‘edgy’ or ‘post modern’ in fact you could be forgiven for thinking the middle English are worthy but dull; you would be wrong.
They, or should I say we since I include myself amongst the ranks of the middle Englanders by reason of where I was born, Staffordshire, and most of my inclinations, have a sense of humour that is both literate and quietly subversive in ways that would never have occurred to the likes of Brand and Ross. An example of this is the Mac cartoons that have mocked the great and the good from the pages of the Daily Mail for the past four decades.
They are marked more than anything else by the other trait of the Middle English that applies to the matters under discussion here, our instinctive dislike of pretension in all its forms. Both Brand and Ross are guilty of the worst pretension of all, hiding their considerable intelligence behind a façade of boorish stupidity, that sort of thing might be considered frightfully ironic amongst people who patronise the Ivy, but it doesn’t play at all well out in the shire counties.
Despite the fuss generated in the media both Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross will survive this particular scandal pretty much unscathed, history might not be so kind to them in the longer term.
Ross will be remembered, if at all, as a chat show host who more often than not went for a cheap laugh connected to a shocking remark rather than taking the trouble to emphasise with his guests. Brand, like most comedians, will end up bemusing and then boring his audience.
Middle England though will be around long after this scandal and its protagonists have been forgotten, forever out of step with ‘fashionable’ tastes but with its finger firmly on the pulse of what this country thinks and feels away from the glowing metropolitan centres.