God Save the Queen?

Remember that you are an Englishman, and have consequently won first prize in the lottery of life.

Cecil Rhodes
An Englishman is never happier than on the Tuesday (the first day) at Royal Ascot in June – a top hat on his head, LP Rosé in his sweaty hand, and glorious thoroughbreds creating a soundtrack like thunder with their expertly cobbled hooves. 

A moment comes when the sun begins to regress and the chap downgrades to jugs of Pimms and other drinks as he tries to forget his losses. After the final race, the less-experienced racegoers roll down the hill to Ascot station and create a bottleneck somewhere outside the entrance.

I join the looser characters in the parade ring beneath the bandstand.

Hymn sheets are handed out to the swaying masses and the band, consisting predominantly of elderly gents in stripped blazers, boom out patriotic songs; it is as if The Last Night at The Proms had been organised by Nigel Farage! Stirring songs fill the early evening Berkshire air – from ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ to ‘Bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover’. 

Each year my dear friend Chelsea proclaims, with a hint of a slur: “‘Rule Britannia’ should definitely be the National Anthem!”   

It now appears that Chelsea may get her dream. Chesterfield MP Toby Perkins believes England needs its own anthem and has presented his case in the House of Commons as a ten minute rule bill.

I am an ardent supporter of the royal family and all the delightful eccentricities they bring. The song ‘God Save the Queen’ is on paper wonderfully patriotic, however it doesn’t resonate with the modern English psyche – not least because it is the British National Anthem first. The anthem is appropriate when the reigning monarch is in situ or when all the home nations combine – such as the military occasions or the Olympics.

The Celtic nations have songs of uprising nationalistic fervour to supplement the genteel and ploddy ‘God Save the Queen’.

God Save the Queen began as an inauspicious plain chant without a known author, but the tune is occasionally attributed to John Bull in 1619. It is a wholly apt anthem for a stately occasion and is a shinning beacon, perhaps glorious memory, of the once great Empire. The map was pink and half of the world was ruled over by our majestic monarchs.

Now the Empire is defunct and the Commonwealth is but a sympathetic apology of a false notion – a respectful nod of the head from countries who rose against the Empire but were almost too polite to turn their full back on that spectacular lady The Queen.

It is also a song that odious ‘republicans’ such as Gary Neville and Jeremy Corbyn refuse to sing in protest. They chose moments of public national unity to snivel in silence, with lips pursed in quiet revolution to attack a 89 year old woman.

So if not God Save the Queen, what?

At Armistice Day services and most respectable weddings and funerals Jerusalem is sung with absolute gusto. It is a song of ideals that celebrates the potential utopia of England – the words were written by the polymath William Blake, in 1804.

Blake implies that a visit by Jesus would briefly create heaven in England, in contrast to the “dark Satanic Mills” of the Industrial Revolution. The implications of the poem implies that while there may, or may not, have been a divine visit, there was briefly heaven in England.

In 1916 Sir Hubert Parry took eight lines and added tub thumping music, usually played on an organ, to create the unison song we know and love. Reputedly, upon hearing the orchestral version for the first time, King George V said that he preferred “Jerusalem” to “God Save the King”.

So this is a topic that has been on the tip of the national tongue for more than 90 years…

Blake asks four questions, rather like an opium-laced doubting Thomas, rather than just proclaiming Jesus’ visit to Blighty. The poem ends, and is fortified by Parry’s music, with the stirring, patriotic, and anthemic;

Bring me my bow of burning gold!

Bring me my arrows of desire!

Bring me my spear: o clouds unfold!

Bring me my chariots of fire!

I will not cease from mental fight;

Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand

Till we have built Jerusalem

In England’s green and pleasant land.

If it was good enough for George V, then it is good enough for me.

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