There is an old joke about a rich English aristocrat who rings for his butler and, when the old retainer comes in, he says: "Do me a favour, Smithers, jump about and whoop a little, will you, I've just won the lottery." I think of this joke every time Britain is faced with celebrating a sporting success
No triumphalism please, we're British
There is an old joke about a rich English aristocrat who rings for his butler and, when the old retainer comes in, he says: "Do me a favour, Smithers, jump about and whoop a little, will you, I've just won the lottery." I think of this joke every time Britain is faced with celebrating a sporting success. Triumphalism does not come easily to us, and with Lewis Hamilton on the verge of winning the Formula One drivers' championship, and Andy Murray having won five titles this season, we really do not know what to do now for the best. Oh, the worry of it. I mean, the last thing we want to do is behave like Americans.
It is not a problem we have been faced with too often, but I always feel that if we do have some sporting achievements to mark, maybe we should hire some Americans or Australians to celebrate for us. There was, of course, a great outpouring of national pride when we won the Ashes thrillingly against Australia in 2005, and our cricketers celebrated in a very British way - by getting drunk and failing to win another match. Our British Olympians and Paralympians, meanwhile, had their own more sober victory parade through London recently, delayed until two months after the event so that the public had more or less forgotten what it was all about.
Now we have just less than four years, I suppose, to learn how to whoop and holler before we welcome the rest of the world to London for the 2012 Olympics. Even before the announcement from the London Organising Committee that some of the sponsorship money had disappeared in the global financial meltdown, this was always going to be a problem. But wait: Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, says, forget Beijing, we will welcome the world to London "in our own sweet way". I interpret this as meaning "in our own cheap way", and, fortunately, I am able to help with a low-cost method of announcing pride in our Britishness to the world.
We need a catchy motto to start with. I suggest: "Mustn't Grumble." I suspect this is one of the UK's most used phrases. High taxes, grey clouds, clogged roads, disappointing summers? Mustn't grumble. As Boris is so keen on the London bus motif, why not open the games by focusing on a small huddle of people in the centre of the Olympic stadium - assuming it has been built - waiting for the arrival of a big red bus carrying British sporting icons like David Beckham, Lewis Hamilton, and World Cup Willie.
But - here's the twist - the bus does not arrive. (Hoorah, we are saving money already.) The queue looks nonplussed, but shoulders are shrugged, and the people break into a chorus of a catchy new song called "Mustn't Grumble", knocked up by Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber especially for the occasion. They are joined in the possibly still-being-built arena - construction workers will wear colourful hard hats so they look like part of the ceremony - by giant sofas wheeled into the stadium on which fat chaps in replica football shirts are slumped watching TV screens, and 'phoning out for pizza. I am reliably informed that if the obesity crisis continues at its current rate, by 2012 we will be able to save money on expensive fat suits.
The whole production climaxes with the crowd waddling off their sofas, assembling in the centre of the arena, and shouting at the crowd: "Who are you looking at?" I am joking of course. I am the child of immigrants, and love Britain for its unique capacity to keep a sense of proportion. This is not easy to encapsulate in an opening ceremony, but if the Organising Committee are short of ideas, they know where to find me.