Trenton Oldfield is part of our eccentric heritage. We should cherish him, not imprison him

Britain doesn't just belong to senior tax lawyers and Crown Court judges. It's ours too - ours to define and ours to defend

Share
Related Topics

The greatest book of the modern age, in case you were wondering, is Rogues, Villains and Eccentrics: An A-Z of Roguish Britons Through the Ages by William Donaldson, which celebrates its 10th anniversary in print this year.

After an extensive survey of this important work I've concluded that, historically, British rogues come in two main types. The first is the aristocratic English eccentric, like the 8th Earl of Bridgewater who shod his many dogs in handmade boots, and regularly invited them to his table as dinner guests, or the reclusive 5th Duke of Portland who communicated through a letterbox in his bedroom door and ordered the construction of a 174ft- long subterranean ballroom under his grounds. Like a pedigree show dog prancing on hind legs, this type is a marvel to behold, but does not bode well for the continuance of the line.

That's probably why it's the latter type – the eccentric as protester – which is more in evidence today. Yesterday Trenton Oldfield was found guilty of causing a public nuisance and now faces a possible custodial sentence. He protested Government cuts by swimming into the path of the crews during this year's Boat Race. Oldfield is Australian by birth, but a true British eccentric in every way that matters. Firstly, because he correctly values two of our nation's greatest achievements, the NHS and the welfare state; and secondly because he's got a very funny way of showing it.

Protesters are usually given humourless short shrift, regardless of the silliness of their protest or the seriousness of their cause.

Like Stephen Gough, the "Naked Rambler", or the intruders in tuxedos who presented a former HMRC boss with a "corporate tax avoidance" award at a City dinner, protesters are usually given humourless short shrift, regardless of the silliness of their protest or the seriousness of their cause. The dinner guest who ejected the protestors, for example, called them "trespassing scum" and told them to leave "before we set the dogs on you".

But British heritage doesn't just belong to senior tax lawyers and Crown Court judges. It's ours too, ours to define and ours to defend. We may, like Oldfield, define it as the NHS and we may defend it by dancing the bogle in our underpants, showering in baked beans or however else seems expedient at the time.

I like to think Oldfield, Gough and the intruders would have made it into a revised edition of Rogues, Villains and Eccentrics. Sadly, William Donaldson died in 2005, but being a great English eccentric himself, he did so only after taking up crack cocaine in his fifties, spending his last £2,000 on a glass-bottomed boat in Ibiza and moving into a brothel on the Fulham Road. Having made such an important contribution to our culture, he was entitled to do exactly as he pleased.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SEN Teaching Assistant Runcorn

£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant EBD , Septemb...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant We are curr...

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

Senior QA Engineer - Agile, SCRUM

£35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior QA Engineer (Agil...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: odd pub names, final polls in Scotland and war historians

John Rentoul
 

i Editor's Letter: We are winning the fight against extreme poverty and hunger. It's time to up the ante

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week