Plans are afoot to introduce the Flashman novels, those politically incorrect celebrations of cowardice, bad form and caddish behaviour, to a new generation of readers. But according to Sarah Montague on the Today programme, ‘Flashman is not typical of our times.’
Is she correct? I can think of quite a few latterday Flashmans off the top of my head, such as Fred ‘The Shred’ Goodwin, whose knighthood had to be prised from his cold Scottish fingers. Not only did Fred keep his pension millions when all about him were losing theirs, he also had an extramarital affair. And the other day a photograph went viral showing a ‘touchline father’ tripping up a teenage player who was about to score a try against his son’s team. Or consider Nigel Farage, another classic Flashman on account of his shamelessness. Every embarrassing revelation about his party he simply laughs off, and thereby bolsters his reputation as a lovable rogue.
I think my favourite contemporary Flashman, though, is Rupert Everett. Actresses are terrified of working with him because he is always so bitchy and indiscreet about them afterwards. Julia Roberts ‘smelled vaguely of sweat’, Sharon Stone was ‘unhinged’ and his best friend Madonna stopped speaking to him after he called her ‘whiny old barmaid’.
David Beckham, meanwhile, is the bookies’ favourite to be named ‘gentleman of the year’ by Country Life magazine next month. The real test will be whether he accepts it or not. A true gentleman would have a dilemma: on the one hand he would feel it immodest to accept, on the other he would consider it impolite to the organisers and the judges not to. Politeness will no doubt prevail if Becks wins because Becks — lovely, charitable Becks with his nice hair and his shy, winning smile — is truly a gentleman.
Or is he? If there were a cad of the year, might he not also be a candidate for that? After all, he was the chap who tripped up that Argentina player when he didn’t think the ref was looking, and then allegedly went on to have an affair when he didn’t think his wife was looking.
Sportmen, with their ruthless spirit, do seem to make good bounders. Think of Kevin Pietersen, the opposite of a team player, a brilliant but selfish batsman who would never dream of ‘walking’ when he knows he has nicked one into the keeper’s gloves. Or Will Carling. When his first marriage ended in divorce, following his ‘friendship’ with the Princess of Wales, he had a child with Ali Cockayne, only to leave her and their 11-month-old son for yet another woman. According to Cockayne, the first she knew of this was when she came across a revised draft of his autobiography in which all references to their relationship had been changed to the past tense.
All this explains the need for a Cad of the Year Award, and The Spectator, on the lookout as it always is for rotten behaviour by MPs and chief executives, is the magazine to launch it. Cads do, after all, make good copy, and they have so much more ‘texture’ than gentlemen.
Ironically, Evelyn Waugh, the man who did more than anyone to invent the modern notion of the gentleman, was himself a cad. Writing to Nancy Mitford in 1956, he said that gentlemanliness provided the explanation for ‘all our national greatness’. He would have known: when rationing ended he took delivery of a bunch of bananas and then ate them all in front of his wide-eyed children.
It is sometimes said that ‘white doesn’t write’, meaning that good characters in fiction bore the readers. It is the cads we remember. Walter White in Breaking Bad is a good example, as is Daniel Cleaver in Bridget Jones’s Diary, and Withnail in Withnail and I — ‘A coward you are, Withnail, an expert on bulls you are not.’ And if you are of the right age, consider Wacky Races. Who is the first character that springs to mind? It’s Dick Dastardly, isn’t it? And can you remember the name of the whiter-than-white gentleman driver? Struggling? It’s Peter Perfect.
If anything I would say we were becoming more caddish as a nation, not less. For almost a hundred years, the archetypal cad has been Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon, who, having managed to get into a lifeboat as the Titanic went down, then bribed the crew to row it away from other passengers in the water. But if a ship went down today, the women and children wouldn’t stand a chance. Even captains no longer go down with the ship.
And consider the phenomenon that is ‘revenge porn’. Instead of kissing and telling in euphemistic language to the tabloids, like cads did in the good old days, your modern cad posts a graphic sex tape online, one featuring himself hard at it with his ex-girlfriend.
On the subject of bounders who kiss and sell, I once asked James Hewitt, who is almost a parody of a cad, even down to the cravats he wears, if he thought he was one. ‘Or a love rat,’ he said nonchalantly. ‘I don’t think the word cad is particularly vicious. I’ve got to learn to live with it. I think I can.’
Of course he can. He’s a cad! Hewitt would make the perfect chairman of the judges for The Spectator’s Cad of The Year. And it would be cheap to sponsor, because there would be no chance of the winning cad actually stepping forward to collect his prize — if he did then he wouldn’t be a true cad, because he would have shown himself to be a good sport, and therefore disqualified.
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