It had to happen. Years of television ads showing smart and superior women putting down knuckle-dragging men who evolution has bypassed has produced a backlash. A generation of embittered, mannerless males has grown up ignorant of the ways of a gentleman.
According to a survey, half of women think that men have little concept of social etiquette, politeness or courtesy. I do not know what the other half thinks, but it would be very long odds on their believing that British men are the mould of fashion, the glass of form and the repository of effortless gentility.
The decline of the English gentleman is nothing new. It has been observed and noted many times in recent years. But although it is generally agreed that he has all but vanished from the social scene – there have been occasional sightings in the Royal Enclosure at Ascot and the Long Room at Lord’s – there is no common agreement on what constituted a gentleman. Some maintained that it was courtesy and respect for his fellow man, coupled with exquisite manners in the presence of the opposite sex. Others, such as the former England and Yorkshire fast bowler Fred Trueman, insisted that what defined a gentleman was his compulsion to get out of his bath before having a pee. But whatever combination of virtues formed his existence, there can be little doubt that he is all but extinct – a victim of changing times and the sexual revolution.
Perhaps that should be sexual evolution; because, seen against the grand sweep of English social history, these are still early days in the changing relationship between the sexes, and that may explain much of the attendant confusion. While there are men into whose heads there would never enter the notion of opening a door for a woman, there are others whose reflex is to show such courtesy, but whose instinct for survival is to think better of it. Anyone whose attempt at gallantry has been publicly and vocally rejected bears the emotional scars for years afterwards. Then again, according to the survey, half of women welcome social graces such as pulling out chairs, carrying the shopping, complimenting a woman on her appearance and opening doors. The trouble is knowing which half.
Because a woman likes to do manly things, such as play football, she is no less a woman, and might, for all the male knows, be pleased to be complimented on her boots and socks. I mention football because of a shocking lack of courtesy shown by the former England manager Graham Taylor, who ejected the England women’s team from their luxurious Birmingham hotel because he wanted his own team, Aston Villa, to stay there.
I do not know whether women footballers emulate the men; whether they spit a lot, grab each other’s shirts and groins, address the ref in the kind of language once heard only below deck on a pirate brig, or whether, should they be fortunate enough to score a goal, they pull the front of their shirts over their heads and run whooping in a giant circle. If so, I am surprised the women’s game does not have a greater following. The point, however, is that whatever they do on or off the pitch, they are women and there was a time not so long ago when no man would have dreamt of booting them out a hotel to make way for his players. But if the gentleman is dead, so too is the cad and bounder, for they are different sides of the same coin.
Which leaves us with the kind of men who believe that if women want equality that must include an equal right to be treated with indifference and lack of grace. Do not, however, despair. A belated and brave attempt is being made to resurrect the values that made the English gentleman a byword for civility and charm the world over.
Thus far I have withheld the name of the sponsors of the survey into the minefield that divides sexism from chivalry because it seemed, well, incongruous. But now is the time to reveal that it was the whisky brand Glenlivet. And, if that seems unlikely, wait until yo
u hear the next bit: Glenlivet is opening a finishing school for men. Whatever next? The Castlemaine XXXX charm academy?
Now I know that “The Glenlivet” is a fine Speyside single malt with claims to sophistication. But for all that it is a Scotch whisky, and therefore carries a certain amount of baggage in the reputation department. When I think of whisky and whisky drinkers I think of short men with an excess of ear hair and faces like belligerent tomatoes shouting, “See you, Jimmy!” in an uncompromising manner. I think of dishevelled men rising unsteadily from their park bench beds and walking sideways into litterbins. I think of “heed butts” and worse. An obituary of Hilda Brabban, creator of Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men, who died last week aged 88, claimed wrongly that she invented the language Oddle Poddle – a sample of which is: “Waddle oo tikoo dop. Glob a waddle a hop”. Anyone who has spent time in the company of whisky drinkers will know that Oddle Poddle is their native tongue and has been so for centuries.
I wish Glenlivet well, but fear theirs will be an uphill struggle.