Did respect die or just f-fade away?
Respect, from the Latin respicere, literally means to look back,
although Tony Blair would rather we didn't associate his new quest
with any halcyon era of the past.
But we all have a sense that respect died some time ago, flattened
by our juggernaut world of progress and left by the kerb.
We are harder pressed to figure out when it died, though. Is it
long gone, and just a skeletal memory, or is the body of deference
still warm, with a pulse tantalisingly detectable?
It's tempting to think of watersheds for the death of respect,
moments after which nothing was ever the same again.
Was it the quintessentially English film The Blue Lamp, in which
old-fashioned friendly bobby George Dixon, played by Jack Warner,
is shot dead by tearaway Dirk Bogarde, that opened the floodgates
for violence against the main symbol of law and order in Britain?
In fact, in the Metropolitan Police, almost as many policemen and
women (21) were killed by criminals in the 49 years between 1900
and the release of The Blue Lamp as in the 56 years since (23).
As many London policemen (eight) died at the hands of the public
from 1910-19 (excluding war-related deaths) as in the other most
violent decade of the century, the 1990s.
And even the streetwise 1990s might have been shocked at the story
of Sgt Thomas Green, who was beaten to death when Epsom police station
was stormed by an angry mob in 1919.
Casting around for another moment when deference died in Britain
might point to September 1953, when the Daily Express, searching
for a phrase to describe the long-haired, drape-jacketed, drainpipe-trousered
gangs suddenly appearing on the streets of London, coined the phrase
These gangs spawned the first of a number of moral panics in post-war
Britain and their defiant individualism was perfectly suited to
the music that arrived from America in 1956.
Frank Sinatra denounced rock 'n' roll as "the martial music
of every side-burned juvenile delinquent on the face of the earth",
and the first tour of a paunchy Bill Haley and his middle-aged Comets
gave rise to an epidemic of seat-slashing in cinemas, seen as the
clearest expression of youth rebellion in the late 1950s.
Out of the Teddy Boys came the Rockers who battled the Mods on
the beach at Brighton to the tunes of a new music, more closely
derived from soul and blues, the sound of The Who and the Rolling
The romance of Elvis Presley's Are You Lonesome Tonight? became
Mick Jagger's Let's Spend The Night Together, leading us down the
path towards such romantic sentiments as Prodigy's Smack My Bitch
Up. But models for these gangs, whether the Teds or the Mods or
the Rockers, could all be found in pre-war Britain, on the racetracks
of Brighton or the streets of Glasgow or the East End of London.
The sociologist Prof Frank Furedi thinks there is another side
to the coin, with respect being killed off by those who once enjoyed
He agrees with Henry Buckle, the Victorian historian, who wrote:
"When any class of men cease to be respected by the nation,
they soon cease to respect themselves."
Prof Furedi reckons his own watershed moment to be in 1963, when
as a young Canadian he saw a British revue in Toronto.
"It was That Was The Week That Was and this was something
really significant to me, because it was not just satire of the
British Establishment by Angry Young Men from outside," he
These were the alter egos of the Establishment, from the same schools
and the same colleges as the people who ran Britain.
"There was a real sense of 'This is the end', that authority
had lost its legitimacy," Prof Furedi says.
Apart from the vicious satire of David Frost, Bernard Levin, Peter
Cook and all the rest, there was the betrayal of the ruling class
by its own members.
The Cambridge spies, toffs to a man, and Jack Profumo, the war
minister who shared his prostitute girlfriend Christine Keeler with
a Soviet spymaster, were exposed in all their dramatic treachery.
That must have rubbed away the last veneer of worthiness from a
governing class already exposed as hapless bunglers by the disaster
of the Suez expedition in 1956 and as powerless bystanders by the
Cuban missile crisis of 1962.
There was, too, the sense of a new generation taking power in the
early 1960s. In Washington, John F Kennedy, a new leader for a new
decade, symbolically removed his silk top hat for his inauguration
speech in January 1961.
Harold Wilson wore a raincoat, spoke with an easily ridiculed northern
accent and saw spies round every corner.
The authority figures of the past - teachers, doctors, politicians,
policemen, even parents - saw their symbols of authority blunted.
Doctors lost the trust of the nation. Teachers lost the cane. Both
discovered the costs of litigation.
Politicians lost the protection of their crusty aloofness when
they started to wear jeans in public. Policemen in panda cars lost
local knowledge and the ability to clip the occasional ear.
Parents, bombarded by generations of lifestyle gurus with conflicting
advice on bringing up their children, simply lost the plot.
Prof Furedi says: "The people who belonged to the Establishment,
the old authority figures, no longer believe in the ethos that made
them what they were, they no longer feel able to uphold the values
they traditionally stood for.
"It began with a healthy challenge to deference from below
and it became a crisis of nerves from above."
published in the Daily Telegraph, 11 January 2006