Friday, 13 June 2014

What are British Values or Why to be British is be a Goth ?


A friend posted on Facebook that picture of the front page of The Times reporting the Minister for Education Michael Gove's demands for British values to be taught in schools following attempts by Muslim fundamentalists to dictate the way some schools in Birmingham should be run and the sad, untimely death of the comic actor Rik Mayall. They pointed out The Times juxtapositions headlines and pictures so well.

For me, the headline and picture raised the question: what does it mean to be British and how on earth could we extend that definition to include the Minister as well as such an odd character as the idiosyncratic Rick from The Young Ones who Mayall was portraying? 

I propose that an answer is to be found in the architecture of my home town Liverpool, in its Gothic  Anglican Cathedral (left above) and its Neo-Classical St George's Hall (right above).


One of the fundamental design tenants of the Anglican Cathedral was that no two  of its 11 million plus carved stone blocks were to be identical, each and every stone was to be different, nowhere is this better seen than in the vault of its Lady Chapel (above left). Each stone of its vast vaulted ceiling is different, even when there seems to be no need, in those places were the bosses and ribs of the vaulted ceiling could be simply replicated , each boss, each rib and their stones respect the design tenet and is individual.

I would argue the individuality of the bricks in Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral is a metaphor for Britain  and British values. In Britain we are all, like the stones, individuals in our right - unique - nevertheless we fit in to a greater thing than ourselves as individuals. This intrinsic individual uniqueness allows the manic, wild eyed  Young One's Rick and the calm, irascible Michael Gove both to lay claim to being British. 

The Cathedral's designed diversity is in contrast to the relentless uniformity of St George's Hall. The Hall can be seen as combination of repeated construction elements for example the Corinthian Columns of its entrance portico (above right). Each column is uncompromisingly identical - base, shaft and even its capital. The latter is  where the Hall's neo-classical craftsman could have been given some leeway to apply his own individuality without comprising  structural integrity, just as the Cathedral's Gothic craftsman were allowed. 

Neo-Classical architecture is not British as it has no place for the individuality of a Mayall or a Cove,  one must be one or the other to fit in, the two cannot coexist. It is no mistake the uncompromising, uniforming political governing systems - Communist and Fascist -  both favour neo-classical or pastiches of neo-classicism in their architecture.

Being British is to be Gothic like Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral stones, to be an individual yet fitting into a greater whole, keeping your intrinsic values yet able to fit in with others to create a greater something; out of many we are one United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland aka Britain.

1 comment:

  1. Ah, Michael, also a great illustration of the 'Rules to Self' tenet of 'From Enlightenment to Romanticism' in that great OU module A207!

    I love the analogy of the individuality of the stones and their 'Gothicness' being akin to being British. It's also about being human. So many different facets of race, culture, faith systems, personality within one country or within one body. The old adage that every ONE is important and 'together we can make a difference' is shown in the stones of the cathedral and in mankind; or it should be!

    I'm proud to be British but only because I too believe that being Britsih embraces the values you speak of; being true to who you are as an individual, but also being part of the bigger picture, not segregated from it.

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