Is there any better reason for retaining the current British national anthem than the fact that nearly every person in Britain hates it?
Last Wednesday, the House of Commons debated a proposal that would see England get its own anthem for sporting events. Predictably, mention of anthems quickly turned the debate to the popular gripe about ‘God Save the Queen’ which is currently Britain’s favourite reason to mumble incoherently as we pretend to enjoy a patriotic singalong.
I understand the antipathy to the anthem yet I really don’t see the fuss. To me it’s a point of national pride that we have the worst anthem in the world. It’s musical rhypnol. There we often are, celebrating another sporting success with the adrenaline pumping through our new World Champion’s drug-free limbs. Up they leap to the podium with gold medal gleaming, their arms waving as if trying to milk a giraffe. It’s the happiest moment in their eighteen long years. And then it begins. The Anthem.
Doesn’t it just sucks every particle of joy from the air? It’s a sometimes wonderful torture seeing the champ struggle to suppress their pent-up energy as the slow plodding melody rattles along like an old wardrobe on broken castors.
Not that the pace is the only problem with the anthem. It also invokes all the worst or best (depending on your politics) symbolism of Empire, including a fair bit about God which you will find moving at a level inversely proportional to the number of books by Richard Dawkins you have on your shelves. It’s also so far removed from reality to be technically a fantasy to rival anything by Tolkien.
You might be surprised to learn that I don’t know the Queen personally and we rarely meet socially. Yet I’ve never once thought her particular ‘gracious’ if, by that, we mean ‘kind’ and ‘warm’. ‘Bored’ and ‘distracted’ seem far better descriptions. In fact, I’d be more inclined to have the lyric rewritten to reflect the reality of modern secular Britain, though we would probably get something that’s quite difficult to hum:
Universal causality save our bored Queen,
Provide better-healthcare-than-the-usual to our indifferent Queen.
Universal causality save the Queen.
Send her non-judgmentally,
Pretty perky (if she’s talking horses) and in a nice hat (frilly),
Long let her be on our stamps (not too keen on licking Charles’s face)
Universal causality save the Queen.
Yet what I perhaps find most irritating about the anthem is that it’s meant to be a ‘national’ anthem yet celebrates the virtues of just one person. Where are the 58 million other verses to describe the rest of us?
It’s not that I have a particular gripe with the Monarchy. As a way of organising a state, monarchies seem better than most. From a humanitarian point of view, however, it does seem unduly cruel to whichever poor sap gets lumped with The Crown. Prince William really stood no chance. The individual is lost as soon as the Archbishop drops a billion in bullion and blood diamonds on their bald spot. What if he’d wanted a different career? Novelist? Academic? Plumber? There, perhaps, goes the greatest rock drummer the world would have ever known had tattoos, groupies, and body odour been permitted in royal circles. That’s the reality we fail to remember when we jealously eye the royals. Imagine if your entire life stank of newly-opened hospital wings and Earl Grey welcomes.
‘So what do you do?’
‘I serve cakes, Your Majesty…’
‘I should imagine it’s very rewarding…’
‘Oh it is… Sometimes I also serve biscuits.’
The role of monarch is a life sentence, which is precisely why the anthem suits it so well.
Critics are right to point out that there are better alternatives. ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ gets the toes tapping, though it is still, perhaps, a bit too God and Empire to please The Guardian. ‘Jerusalem’ is lyrically a class apart but not that easy to whistle when you’re up a ladder stringing bunting. ‘Zadok the Priest’ is my personal choice with five minutes of warbling strings before we’d belt out the chorus. But would people constantly confuse national celebrations with UAFA Champion’s League nights?
Not that any of this really matters. Even if there was a perfect alternative we could all agree on, my preference would still be to stick with what we have.
I might hate it but I don’t hate it as much as I could hate others. And that’s my fear. The moment you accept that we could change our anthem, then changes would come more often than we like. It wouldn’t take a particularly potty bit of thinking on behalf of a potty government (Corbyn/Boris) to tie it to a Downing Street petition. 500,000 names on a petition and bingo: a new anthem quicker than you could drop a hat or wave a flag. Of course, it would begin well enough with everybody singing ‘Rule Britannia’ but, before you know it, you’d be busy Scaramouching and expecting me to do the Fandango.
‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is just the beginning of the popularist hell we’d create. We’d be launching destroyers to Robbie William’s ‘Angels’ and kicking off football matchs to the strains of Lady Gaga’s ‘Poker Face’.
Yet there is one final and perhaps justifiable reason I don’t mind keeping what we have. Our anthem is more likely to send us to sleep than it is likely to get the blood pumping. Do we really want to become a nation the equivalent of Tottenham Hotspur, running out to ‘Duel of the Fates’ from Star Wars? We’d become a nation studs-high tacklers, prone to play the man and not the ball.
Our anthem is tired, boring, and utterly dull, as befits a nation prone to understatement and not taking itself too seriously. Unless, of course, I could convince you to listen to the Wirral’s favourite sons in the form of Half Man Half Biscuit…