Minor British Institutions: The Guy


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The Independent Online

Nothing personal, but Guy is a moveable, slippery fellow. Originally German, he arrived with the Normans, gaining a haughty reputation (cf Robin Hood's enemy, Guy of Gisbourne).

His popularity then went bang with Guy Fawkes, Catholic soldier of misfortune. The country began burning him in effigy in a fine combustion of anti-Catholicism and the old Celtic fire festivals, while aspiring young capitalists used him as a begging tool.

Guy, lengthily, was only an insult. In the 1800s, he moved to the US, where he steadily became more acceptable, if still raffish (see Guys and Dolls, and the affectionate "little guy"). He returned here, cleansed, at the same time as burning him went out of fashion.

Now, we are all guys, male and female, especially when greeted by bright young waiters. But Guy is currently also the protest symbol du jour, the V-mask; and Tony Blair, remember, remember, declared himself "a pretty straight kind of guy".