Our talent is to amuse. That's why stand-up is one of the middle-class careers of choice now. What percentage of Brits are employed as comedians as against, say, Spaniards, Greeks or Italians? Talk to the boys and girls pitching themselves at the Edinburgh Festival and they're 99 per cent graduates working an audience that's 99 per cent graduates. It doesn't make them bad people, of course – it's just irritating that they usually play it so ... demotic.
Wry self-deprecation is part of our fatal British charm – fatal for us, that is – and just over the border of acceptability is its terrible British cousin, eccentricity.
Brits like the idea of eccentricity because not only does it distinguish us from nations whose role models are the robot or the ant – it suggests we just might, in that great final reckoning, be superior to them. More individualistic, yet closer to God. More inspired. They may have their scale, their looming economies, their burgeoning technology base and their impressive education factories, but we're light years ahead at being barmy.
The cleverer comedians are properly sensitive. In 'The Fast Show', Charlie Higson played that sad "I'm mad, me" middle-class office bore. And Catherine Tate has a young Essex working-class couple whose sustaining fantasy is that their every word or action is outrageous and hilarious.
But toffs are the worst – by a mile. It's part of their charter that they should be gloriously, ineffably unbourgeois and unbothered. No toff family is complete without a thin volume of earlier nuts. These stories usually serve to illustrate mainly the longevity of their toffness and the wealth and power of their forbears. Those dukes with their own underground trains and their difficult behaviour with architects. Lord Berners and his pink pigeons, and almost everything about Edith Sitwell, from her dippy clothes to her dippy pronouncements.
What do lesser breeds make of all this? There's a certain kind of East Coast American who adores it – who wishes his grandfather could have been as agreeably mad when he was making the mega-money that sustains his non-dom life in Belgravia. But lots of Europeans don't get it. They know it's a British Thing, whatever it is. But it's about as attractive as British Teeth.
So it's surprising to find Seat, the curious Spanish car marque, embracing the eccentric big idea in its current commercial. The driving thought here is that perfection requires a touch of madness. The kind of madness that animates the new Seat Ibiza with its extraordinary combination of beauty and technology.
The divine madness seems to come from a director who has seen some old Richard Lester Beatle films. So we get a roomful of young people being wacky. How mad are they? They tear pages out of magazines, they play with Rubik's Cubes and they're big on gestures. But they seem to be cast from a Euro collective – the European 68-ers imagery of Youth in Revolt. (They say in their rather lost-in-translation strapline, "The actors in this commercial are all Seat employees").
All this madness seems to have created a pretty conventional Euro-car. And you can't see Seat's owners, the legendarily un-funny Volkswagen volk, putting up with all that gurning for long.Reuse content