Interviewed in last week’s New Statesman Jah Wobble says of William Blake –
“He’s been hijacked by retired colonels in Surrey who think he represents their Albion, and he absolutely doesn’t”.
These retired colonels seem to have an afterlife in the popular imagination long after I suspect they have ceased to exist in reality. They are said to live in Cheltenham, always “spluttering into their pink gins” and writing letters of complaint to the Telegraph, accompanied by their disgusted cousins in Tunbridge Wells . They are thought to run the MCC and anyone who has reservations about the rise of 20/20 cricket is assumed to be one of their number.
It would be interesting to trace the history of these colonels in the popular mind (no doubt Punch is involved somewhere). They must once have reflected some actual social reality – I’d guess originally regular army officers who’d seen service in some outpost of Empire and then returned to England in retirement (presumably on a decent pension). Perhaps they ended up in Cheltenham (or Tunbridge Wells) because they’d picked up some ailment out East and felt the need to take the waters.
Their heyday – I’d say – would be between the wars. I seem to remember them cropping up a lot in detective stories of that period, not to mention Colonel Mustard. One thinks too of Colonel Blimp (the character in the film an example of a sympathetic portrayal).
Perhaps the second war gave them an added lease of life – they were still around as figures of (mildly affectionate) fun in the sixties. The Major in Fawlty Towers and Uncle Jimmy in R. Perrin (actually I think a Brigadier) a couple of later examples.
Would they ever have been interested in Blake? Surely Kipling and Newbolt more their line?