Friday, February 11, 2005

Everything in "Yes Minister" was true. The French are really like that

I watched the television series "Yes Minister" and "Yes Prime Minister" when they were first shown on TV in Australia in the 1980s and very early 1990s. These television series travelled exceedingly well, because politics is fundamentally the same everywhere. What I did not realise at the time that I watched the episodes in Australia was that the episodes were often quite topical and were about real events, some that had happened the week that the program first aired in Britain. (I later read an interview with one of the writers in which he stated that he had initially been surprised that the series was so popular throughout the world, because he had considered it to be principally about topical British events)

In any event, there was an episode of "Yes, Prime Minister" about 15 years ago that dealt with the arrangements to do with the opening of the channel tunnel. These presumably were a response to events that had occurred in real life, but I was not in Britain at the time that the things that happened in real life happened, so I know nothing about it. In the television program, we discovered that however antagonistic to one another Sir Humprhey and Prime Minister Hacker usually were, they were capable of uniting against the true enemy - the French. In this episode the French president initially makes some rather uneven demands concerning national issues with respect to the tunnel: for instance that menus on the trains should be only in French, and that the territorial line should be at Dover and not in the middle of the tunnel, and things like that. Eventually the French commit a diplomatic faux pas and an agreement is reached that the territorial line will be in the centre of the channel, the menus will be in both languages etc etc.

And in reality the system functions smoothly. When you are in France announcements are in French followed by English, and when you are in England the announcements are in English followed by French. (They are in Dutch as well on trains to Belgium, but I forget the order).

However, when travelling to Paris a couple of weeks ago I discovered that the French do still appear to be expansionist. When travelling on a channel tunnel train you now go through immigration before getting on the train. Getting on in London there is a French policeman who examines your passport, and in Paris there is a British immigration official who does the same. As I have a non-EU passport, my passport has to be actually stamped as well as examined. And it is interesting to look at the stamps. And what do they say?

Well, the British stamp I received in Paris states that I entered the United Kingdom, and that the location at which I did so was "channel tunnel". The French stamp on the other hand says that I entered France in "Londres". So it seems that France may still be trying to annex London, although Britain doesn't seem terribly concerned about annexing Paris. This is exactly what Sir Humphrey would have predicted.

And what do I think of this? Well, I think I am with Shakespeare.

This star of England: Fortune made his sword;
By which the world's best garden be achieved,
And of it left his son imperial lord.
Henry the Sixth, in infant bands crown'd King
Of France and England, did this king succeed;
Whose state so many had the managing,
That they lost France and made his England bleed.

No comments:

Blog Archive