It's one of those commercials that sticks in the mind. It's dawn at some Mediterranean swimming pool and the Germans are advancing steadily on the sun loungers. From a hotel window a man (British, of course) hurls his swimming towel towards the nicest, shadiest lounger. It unfurls neatly. It is a towelling Union Jack. The Germans have been beaten at their own game.

British hostility towards the Germans goes back a long way. Usually put down to World War II, the real reasons behind it are rooted more deeply in history.

Just after the withdrawal of the Romans in AD 409, the Saxons who used to live in what is now part of modern Germany invaded and spent the subsequent two centuries conquering and colonising what was later to be called England. It was not exactly the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Matilda, daughter of Henry I and mother of Henry II, was unlucky enough to have a German King for a brother-in-law. Consequently, she met hostile crowds when she returned to Britain to claim the throne. Likewise, Queen Victoria's Teutonic husband, Prince Albert, was never very popular with the public. But perhaps the strongest reason for British hatred of the Germans is because we resent the fact that we needed them to come to our rescue at the Battle of Waterloo.

The feelings are hardly dying away. A survey commissioned by Gestetner and published last week found British children as young as 10 who are strongly anti-German. They associated it with the World War II and think Germany is the most boring country in Europe.