John’s aim was to show that being British means that we are descendants of immigrants even if we do not like the present form of immigration.
What do we think are symbols of Britishness?
He showed a series of ‘British’ symbols: Winston Churchill, The Union Flag, The Coat of Arms, Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge, The Tower of London (where many executions were carried out), Shakespear, Edinburgh Castle, Snowdonia and the Giant’s Causeway.
He asked if these are what we think of as ‘British’. He told us that bills that are passed from the Commons to the Lords and back are written in Norman French even today. The statue of Richard the Lionheart (another ‘British’ symbol) was sculpted by a man from Turin, who also made the Trafalgar Square lions. (Richard the Lionheart was King of England for 10 years but spent only six months in England).
Who are the British?
Migrants had been coming to Britain for thousands of years, before the islands became separated from mainland Europe. Tribes came from all over Europe from as far away as Iberia and the borders of Russia. After the islands formed there were as many as 45 different tribes living on the main island of Britain. (This may account for the many different dialects we have today).
The Romans invaded in around 55BC with 20000 legionnaires and another 20000 retainers. They brought the seeds of their civilisation with them: running water, toilets, bathhouses, libraries, taxes and roads. Towns were developed with linear roads. The Romans stayed for 350 years and when they left many stayed on, perhaps they were married and had families in Britain.
Many other invasions of these islands happened. The Jutes, Angles, Saxons, and in 793AD the Vikings, invaded and in 1066AD the Normans came.
The English language.
The language was probably Celtic but Germanic dialects were introduced by the Angles, Jutes and Saxons. The Romans introduced Latin and later the Vikings brought new words: the days of the week, skull, scarf, murder are thought to be Viking. Later still, after the Norman Conquest, the mother tongue of the kings and queens Norman French was used in the Royal Court and in many parts of Britain. In fact, English was not adopted in the Royal Court until 1362AD by Edward III. Even today we still have echoes of other languages in our system – the lawyers use “habeas corpus” and similar expressions in their legal documents.
After 1066AD all the Royals, from William I, William II, Stephen etc. up to Prince Albert, were foreign born. Even St. George, the patron saint of England, was based on a Roman centurion who was born in Palestine.
We have a history of welcoming foreigners to Britain. When the king of France made it illegal to be Protestant in Catholic France many Protestants were exiled to Britain. William of Orange brought hundreds of retainers with him to Britain. The slave trade introduced black African servants and, in the Fifties, West Indians were invited to Britain to work here.
John finished with a poster:
“BEING BRITISH means: driving a GERMAN car to an IRISH pub to drink BELGIAN beer and, on the way home picking up an INDIAN curry, and, at home, sitting on SWEDISH furniture watching an AMERICAN cop show on a JAPANESE television.