Who do they think they are?
Photo: Boris Johnson, racingdiary.co.uk
Image: Imaginary portrait of Sir Richard Whittington, Mercers Company. btinternet.com
Photo: Ld Mayors Show, ukstudentlife.com
Image: Dick Whittington poster, its-behind-you.com
How that transition happened is a lesson in how facts should never be allowed to get in the way of a good story. There was nothing about my life that could be called entertaining. My words were as respectable as my deeds. I became remarkably wealthy but as the son of a knight I was not new to wealth. If I had a cat in any of my households I did not notice it. I was never worried about rats although if I had known their role in the Black Death that gripped my country, I would have been. My face and figure were as plain as my days were long. In spite of all that, I became the central character in a timeless piece of musical comedy. When you consider how much more amusing Boris's traits are, you can only conclude that he is an even bigger pantomime in waiting.
For that to come about, unrelated ideas and occurrences have to catch hold of Boris's story. Jupiter has to collide with Mars on his birthday, or something of that ilk. In tune with the development of the theatre, my life story became intermingled with Persian folklore about an orphan who gained a fortune through his cat and with Saturnalian revels involving gender reversal. It didn't have to be me. It could have been any Englishman who made his fortune without pillage. I left a lot of money to charity simply because I didn't have children. In the next century, Gresham and Bodley did good works too. It could have been them. They might even have liked cats.
My example is not a pattern for becoming an icon. It reinforces the idea that history is made up of accidents. There is every reason to suppose Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson is an accident on the brink of happening. Or, some might argue, has happened. Physically, he is all a bumble. He makes mistakes in public. I dread to think what he would have made of being Lord Mayor instead of Mayor. Can you picture him in the gilded coach, at 'The Silent Ceremony' of investiture, leading the solemn procession through the streets without laughing?
I concede that the Lord Mayor's Show is pure theatre if you have no respect for tradition. It isn't the symbol of authority over the entire City that is was in my time (not that I got the coach, that came for later Lord Mayors). Today, it's about as much to do with the running of London as the Changing of the Guard has to do with the security of England. Perhaps more people would turn out in the rain every second Saturday in November if there was more pantomime in the spectacle. Unwittingly or not, Boris as Lord Mayor would have provided that. As a result, perhaps 'Boris in robes' could have rivalled 'Puss in boots' and 'Dick Whittington' at theatres around the country this Christmas.
Admittedly, he would have been the Dame, the clown at the centre, not the 'Principal Boy' like me. If he really wants to be remembered on stage by a beautiful young woman with no skirt then I can only suggest one thing. Donate all your money to Shelter, Women Against Rape or Barnardos.
Sorry, two things. Find a better barber.
Sir Richard Whittington’s opinion was interpreted by Will Coe, Dec 2010
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Lord Mayor’s show
Or is it the other way round?
Made any connections?
If you can link the past to the present, we’d love to hear from you.
Pantomime is the most whimsical of plagues ever to infect London. There are some who mark me out as its source and Boris Johnson as the latest evidence of its virulence. To find myself as the provenance of an art form is both amusing and bemusing. To think that Boris shows signs of a contagion I started is equally so.
I have a merchant's mind for detail so let me first make it clear that Boris has not inherited a title invested in me more than six centuries ago. I was Lord Mayor of London and if you have ever been a pantomimer you will know I was thrice that important officer. As I write, Boris Johnson is the one-time Mayor of London, a twenty first century invention, and Alderman Michael Bear is Lord Mayor of the City of London, which was the role I performed, though with a truncated title (London and City of London were one and the same when I trod its cobbled streets).
With that off my chest, let me now examine why being a Mayor of London, however titled, invites ridicule: why it seems I have a cat fetish; why Boris acts as though his mouth was somewhere to keep his shoes, and why his predecessor was obsessed with newts and articulated public transport.
My transition from prominent mercer and moneylender to long legged pantomime character is not a logical one. I don't begrudge that it has happened since no other Mayor in the world is celebrated every Christmas. Perhaps Boris is headed that way too, for he is a natural buffoon whereas I was always proper and aldermanly.