As we are in a moment of national crisis we need, more than ever, a popular figure who can bring all the warring factions together and unite a country badly bruised by the bitterness of Brexit.
A leader who is a symbol of quintessential Britishness, who will provide an insight into the national psychology, hold up a mirror to society.
I’m thinking of someone who will display, say, the courage and resourcefulness of Arthur Lowe’s Captain Mainwaring and, like Eric Morecambe, cock a snook at the powerful.
I’m thinking brave. I’m thinking bald. I’m thinking bespectacled. I’m thinking Jack Leach.
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The reason I’m thinking all of these things is not only because of the imminent Commons showdown, the perceived threat to parliamentary sovereignty and the prospect of civil unrest. It’s also because an influential think tank has this week suggested a Freeview channel be set up to promote “shared cultural reference points that lead to mutual understanding”.
British Future wants this station to show a mix of education programmes, classic British comedy and popular drama to help immigrants get a handle on our language and culture.
This is a fine idea. Programmes like Fawlty Towers, Only Fools and Horses, Simon Schama’s History of Britain and Midsomer Murders would be a great way of improving a new arrival’s grasp of the English language and culture.
But why restrict this project to immigrants? We are a nation of TV watchers and we are crying out for a saviour who
can equably and good-naturedly, and with our trademark sense of humour, transcend all the divisions and remind us what it means to be British.
Step forward, the bald, bespectacled Leach.
We Brits love a last-man-standing story. And, while it was Ben Stokes who understandably took most of the plaudits for
his extraordinary rescue mission against the Aussies five days ago, the optically-challenged Somerset spinner – calmly and unfussily facing down the enemy’s fearsome fast bowlers at Headingley – also instantly entered sporting mythology.
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Being bald and bespectacled didn’t stop Mainwaring moulding a bunch of elderly misfits into an aggressive fighting unit in Walmington-on- Sea or Morecambe grabbing a world-famous conductor by
the lapels of his tuxedo after being dismissed as a musical novice.
Nor did it stop Leach, wearing a huge rib protector and a pair of steamed-up glasses – which he carefully wiped the sweat from during his extraordinary match-winning stand with Stokes – nudging the ball for a single, his first run in more than an hour’s batting, allowing his masterful partner to hit the four that saved the Ashes.
In an age of triumphalism and swaggering entitlement, he represents a more modest, sensible, self-deprecating idea of Britishness. Never mind Harriet Harman or Ken Clarke being installed as prime minister of an emergency government. Send for Jack. It would be, after all, a nightwatchman kind of role.
Back in the 1980s, Derek Jameson’s Do They Mean Us? would look at how the overseas media covered stories about Britain. Those wacky foreigners would, according to the presenter, take great delight in satirising such eccentric emblems of national identity as punks, beefeaters and the Sinclair C5.
The patriotic Jameson died in 2012, only a few months after the London Olympics’ opening ceremony had showcased a more representative country to the world: Shakespeare, the Beatles and Mr Bean.
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The next time we host the Games, instead of Rowan Atkinson’s Chariots of Fire spoof, Danny Boyle should film a re-enactment of the greatest innings of Leach’s life. As Will Swanton told readers of The Australian: “Jack Leach wiping his glasses before facing a hostile Pat Cummins was the most gloriously English thing ever. He might have put the kettle on back at the team hotel and celebrated his hour of extraordinary willpower in the Headingley Test by reading a good Agatha Christie. Pleased with his knock? He’d be chuffed to bits.”
The superhuman Stokes might have played one of the greatest innings of all time but it is this pragmatic, unflashy, speccy everyman – nicknamed “the nut” by team-mates because his head resembles a peanut – who has emerged as an unlikely cult hero, a welcome antidote to the political establishment’s bloated arrogance.