King Arthur, Attila the Hun and Bob Monkhouse

A Glasgow historian reckons that his remains are in a 6th-century sarcophagus in Govan
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The Independent Online

The silly season, like the football season, appears to be getting longer. It never used to start in earnest, if earnest is the right word for silliness, until August. That was when otherwise sober newspapers and television news bulletins would devote slightly too much space to a report that the world's biggest Scotch egg had been made at a factory near Kidderminster.

The silly season, like the football season, appears to be getting longer. It never used to start in earnest, if earnest is the right word for silliness, until August. That was when otherwise sober newspapers and television news bulletins would devote slightly too much space to a report that the world's biggest Scotch egg had been made at a factory near Kidderminster.

But halfway through July, we are already into silly season stories, and a classic of the genre is this week's news that Scotland has laid claim to King Arthur, of Camelot fame.

A historian from Glasgow, the aptly-named Hugh McArthur, reckons the legendary hero was, in fact, called Artur MacAeden, that he lived in a castle in Dumbarton and was buried in Govan, coincidentally the home town of a latter-day knight just as celebrated as Lancelot, although a knight not of the round table but the league table.

McArthur thinks that the remains of King Arthur are contained in a 6th-century sarcophagus in Govan Old Parish Church, close to the birthplace of Sir Alex Ferguson, the only Briton in recent years to have led his men to the modern equivalent of the holy grail, the Champions' League. To support the claim, McArthur informs us that 1,000 years ago the castle at Dumbarton was called Arthur's Castle, and that nearby Loch Lomond used to be called "the lake". Not to mention Arthur's Seat, the volcanic crag overlooking Edinburgh.

Silly this story might be, but it has several interesting dimensions. One is the propensity of the Scots to claim people from other countries as their own. Only yesterday, reporting on the Barclays Scottish Open golf tournament, coincidentally at Loch Lomond Golf Club, Andy Farrell of this newspaper remarked on the ingenious ways in which the hosts tried to annex the winner. When it looked as though New Zealand's Michael Campbell might win the thing, much was made of his Scottish great great grandfather, Sir Logan Campbell of Edinburgh.

In fairness, I have encountered this phenomenon in reverse. I knew a Fijian diplomat once who had a posting in London, and was keen to play with the Scottish members of his golf club in their annual match against the English. When challenged on whether he qualified for Scotland, he insisted that he did, indeed, have some Scottish blood inside him. When further challenged, he explained, to much guffawing all round, that his great great grandfather had once eaten a missionary from Dundee.

For the Scottish reporters at Loch Lomond GC preparing their stories about Sir Logan, Campbell was unfortunately pipped by the Frenchman Thomas Levet. But that was okay, because it meant that the Auld Alliance between Scotland and France could be enthusiastically invoked, as it so often is north of the border, even though a well-travelled Scotsman once told me that he had never met a Frenchman who had the slightest clue what the Auld Alliance was.

Another interesting dimension to all this is the fortuitous timing of Mr McArthur's claims, on the eve of the release of a Hollywood blockbuster about King Arthur. Some enterprising people at Scottish Borders Tourism have even launched a campaign to reinvigorate old rumours that Arthur may have come from that neck of the woods, and, of course, the film's publicists are doing nothing to dampen such speculation, even though in the film Arthur is said to have been a Roman, Lucius Artorius Castus, who was born near the Black Sea before coming to Britain and falling for Keira Knightley.

Roger Toy, the custodian of King Arthur's Great Halls in Tintagel, Cornwall, told me yesterday that, down the years, he has heard many different origins suggested for King Arthur, including Iceland, Brittany and Norway. A Hungarian woman even produced evidence that Arthur was a kinsman of Attila the Hun.

But Mr Toy is not indignant. He is not about to get his own back on Scotland by flourishing research showing the Loch Ness monster originated in Padstow, more's the pity for the silly season. From his point of view, the speculation merely cranks up the interest in Arthurian legend which, in turn, cranks up interest in Tintagel. Besides, he accepts there may have been many Arthurs, all contributing to the legend.

The one who lived in Tintagel was born there around 500AD, several hundred years before Mr McArthur's Arthur was buried in Govan. And the story about the Lady of the Lake was bolted on in medieval times. "What is important," adds Mr Toy, "is the message rather than the detail."

And the message in the legend, as he sees it, is that a yearning for a better way of life is fundamental to the human spirit. King Arthur's Great Halls, he explained, were built in the 1920s by Frederick Glasscock, who founded The Fellowship of the Knights of the Round Table of King Arthur, an organisation dedicated to the principles of chivalry. By the time Mr Glasscock died, in the 1930s, there were 17,000 members.

Mr Glasscock was a partner in the Monk & Glass custard-powder fortune, which was started with a Mr Monkhouse, who was the grandfather of the late comedian Bob Monkhouse. All of which meets the definition of a good silly season story, in that it sounds far too silly to be true, but true it is.

b.viner@independent.co.uk

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