Rebecca Tyrrel: The new deference

The Queen is entitled to it, the Prince of Wales is not. David Cameron inspires it, but Tony Blair does not. And as for judges... The little person in all of us still bows and scrapes. But it is to good manners, not class, that we defer
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The Independent Online

I very much wanted Judge I and Judge J in the "hanky-panky with the Brazilian cleaning lady" case to be famed and distinguished and esteemed. I required them to be elevated sorts whose high office demanded humble submission and respect; bewigged, red-robed, port-drinking, Stilton-eating stalwarts of the Old Bailey who had fallen from grace and great heights.

Shamefully forgetting for a brief moment that these days women can be judges too, I imagined both individuals to be men. They were rather older, fat-faced, jowly men who, following in the long, public school tradition, savour sex of the Miss Whiplash variety with anything that moves whether it be male, female or the cleaning lady's feather duster. In my mind's eye they were rotund, florid and, forgive me, gambolling about on all fours in their wigs and robes of office, their sponge-bag trousers dropped to reveal Wodehousian sock suspenders and large polka-dotted underpants. The whole affair was a saucy postcard, a Mac cartoon starring their shared cleaner, nudge, nudge, Miss Roselane Driza in a French maid's uniform, making free with a mop handle.

On discovering that Judge J was in fact a woman (a detail mentioned in paragraph two of most news stories, which I had failed to grasp) I refused to be too disappointed and merely changed my mental picture so that James Robertson Justice became Hattie Jacques playing a dame of the realm.

But by Thursday lunchtime the fantasy was over as Judge I was revealed to be no one more distinguished or roly-poly than Mohammed Ilyas Khan. Not a man of great legal stature but an immigration judge, (this too was pointed out in earlier reports but missed by me in my eagerness to sustain an Ealing comedy fantasy featuring a banging gavel and a booming, portentous demand to "send the prisoner down".) Mr Khan is to all intents and purposes a barrister who does a bit of judging, among other things, nudge, nudge again, on the side. He is a man of such low repute it would seem that his own family will have nothing to do with him. One thin-lipped judge keen to distance himself and his profession from the goings-on said lastweek that the recent demand for immigration judges had led to large-scale appointments and possibly a lowering of standards. Another pointed out that the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal was a separate judicial branch. Separate from what isn't mentioned, just separate enough for no one else in the legal profession to be tainted by Khan's cavortings or his, presumably, feigned lack of knowledge as to Miss Driza's lack of visa.

Most regretful for me however, was the lack of port or Stilton in Mr Khan's working life; there were just workaday suits and files. It isn't snobbery that made me feel this way and I won't sneer at his likely lack of sock suspenders or his pants, which are probably of the brief, or even thong variety and from Calvin Klein not Billings and Edmonds. But what Mr Khan lacks most, and this is what caused the disappointment, is what the stereotypical gout ridden Old Bailey judge would, appropriately enough, call bottom. Bottom is like gravitas; it is weight, authority and dignity, despite the shaming, toe-curling fall, and it comes with the job but only if the job is a pretty damn senior one. For my mental picture to be accurate Mr Khan would be a man who, as he walked, disgraced, from his chambers, his head held high, would still warrant a doffing of caps and a send off into retirement oblivion to heartfelt shouts of "Gawd bless yer, guv'nor." I want to be able to tug my forelock, even at disgraced judges. I want to show deference for a person who despite their high office, is only human after all.

The Queen demands a doffing of caps and bucketloads of deference, as Jeremy Paxman found out at a Buckingham Palace reception. Paxman has written a nice book about royalty, (which he admits is odd for someone who described himself as a republican, "with a full set of coherent democratic prejudices about the world") and he has asked himself, "What were we doing with this family at the head of a 21st-century state?"

Then he met the Queen, or rather he didn't. As he endearingly confesses, he bottled out of marching up and getting himself introduced. Instead he skulked about with his BBC colleagues, a palace Twiglet and a glass of warm, white wine, asking himself searching questions such as, why was he experiencing these unexpected, little person emotions in front of his sovereign and host. "Why, he was moved to ask, "should one individual have this capacity to strike awe?" He seems surprised to hear that John Major was apparently nervous and trembling in front of Her Majesty. Except, come on, (as he would say) wouldn't you expect Major to flap a little. Isn't Major the flapping sort? The surprise is Paxman's own quailing in the presence of the Queen. He has interviewed presidents and prime ministers, murderers, generals and a living god in the shape of the Dalai Lama. "What was it," he asks, "about this diminutive grandmother?", and he quotes Harold Wilson who said that the proximity of the Queen always produced "a certain tension akin to awe". The answer, I believe, is less that she is a good and admirable person doing a difficult job heroically, more that her job itself is awesome. Whether you are an arch republican or a royalist with a collection of coronation mugs and Camilla tea towel, there is something pretty magnificent about a living breathing king or queen, as Paxman, to his surprise, found out.

Clearly he didn't feel quite the same way about Her Majesty's eldest son and heir or he wouldn't have had the rudeness, the barefaced cheek, after accepting the Prince of Wales's hospitality at Sandringham, to report the seven boiled eggs palava last week; the directive from His Royal Highness that in order to ensure a sufficient runniness of yolk and stiffness of white, seven eggs must be presented for his inspection at various stages of cookedness. I am glad that Paxman did feel free to tell this diamond story, but if Charles was already king, would those named in the egg dossier have perhaps been treated with more deference, their pompous idiosyncrasies kept within the confines of Paxman's briefcase?

If and when Charles does become king, I believe that those of us who don't currently feel any of Harold Wilson's tension or awe or anything resembling those emotions at the thought of the Prince of Wales or his perfectly pleasant wife, could well come over all trembling and 'umble and instinctively want to walk backwards when leaving a room. We will conveniently forget the unspeakably embarrassing Camillagate tapes and the awful details of the prince's toilette. The Queen will be in her grave, God bless her, and we will need someone to whom we can show deference, someone who doesn't, like Mr Tony Blair, believe you earn respect with a few glottal stops and an Estuary accent.

Politicians, of course, rarely inspire awe, and certainly not from Jeremy Paxman, so we musn't seriously entertain the idea that we can rely on them. Mr Blair seems to actively and wilfully repel anything akin to it with his clearly misplaced idea that because he apparently can't be bothered to sound his Ts we will like him more. Surely, though, it is very bad manners for a naturally well-spoken person to speak sloppily. And Blair is, whether he likes it or not, a naturally well-spoken person, with his private, Fettes education behind him. His friend David Milliband does the glottal stop, Estuary, flattening thing too. It's as if they can't be bothered to go to all the effort of rounding their vowels, they've got too many other things to think about. I bet they round them fully for the Queen, though.

David Cameron rounds his, whoever he is talking to. He is happy to give his toff accent the free rein it deserves, which, whatever your politics, is very refreshing. Cameron is, according to those who have met him, a very polite chap, he is not too cool for manners, and manners are, as that very cool commentator, Dylan Jones points out, a crucial commodity.

When Cameron went on Jonathan Ross's chat show, Ross crassly and crudely raised the possibility of Cameron, as a teenager, having masturbated over pictures of Margaret Thatcher. Cameron, as embarrassed as anyone would be in that situation, displayed all the good manners that, admittedly, his expensive education had bought for him. He didn't harrumph, he politely allowed that custard pie to fly past him. But whereas in the past we might have deferentially and unthinkingly applauded "the young gentleman" purely because of his poshness, now we are more discerning. It was his manners, his implicit respectfulness, even to Jonathan Ross, that itself demanded respect. Where once we would compulsively bend the knee to class, now we defer to good manners.

In the introduction to his new book Mr Jones Rules: How to be a Modern Man, Dylan Jones provides a salutary anecdote involving an invitation to lunch at L'Escargot, a London restaurant which in the mid-Eighties was both trendy and upmarket. Jones, too cool for a suit, even a Katharine Hamnett, pitched up in a black nylon flying jacket. He looked ridiculous and he knew it. He writes, "Never again was I going to feel like a boy when I wanted to feel like a man." A suit, if he'd worn one, would have been shorthand for respect; deference.

And for Cherie, who has recently shown that she could do with a few etiquette tips, there is Jane Austen's Guide to Good Manners by Henrietta Webb and Josephine Ross. The Princess Royal could do with being sent a copy too. She was very, very rude to Cherie at Balmoral over the kedgeree. "Good morning, Mrs Blair," said the princess.

"Please call me Cherie," said Cherie.

"I'd rather not," said the princess.

It is funny, but it was very, very rude. I am sure her mother will have told her "one must always be nice to guests".

Unless, of course, like Miss Driza, they have outstayed their welcome and attempted to blackmail the immigration judges they were having sex with. The cleaning lady is now in prison, and it is unlikely Mr Khan or Judge J will keep their jobs. If only everyone had shown a little more deference.