THE LAST WORD

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The British Council has recently revealed that it is making some changes to the way it promotes our country around the world, because it believes that the message of what modern Britain is all about is not getting through. The Council has therefore decided to portray Britain in what it considers to be a more attractive and interesting way than previously, so that rather than using writers and artists like Shakespeare or Damien Hirst, it has taken the unusual step of using British football as an example of how vibrant and happening our culture is these days. But is football the answer?

True, the British Council is not considering using British football fans as our ambassadors. Hitting people from other countries, vomiting copious amounts onto foreign streets or chanting puerile, racist slogans which they haven't even bothered to learn in the host tongue wouldn't really attract an awful lot of people to our sceptred isle. (Yes, I do realise that the vast majority of English fans are law-abiding good eggs, but the press chooses not to show them being polite and eating their tea nicely.)

No, the rest of the world is going to be treated to the silver- toed talents of Beckham, Shearer et al, who are expected to travel the globe impressing upon those who have failed to notice that we are well worth attention of some sort.

Well, I suppose it's a bit of an improvement on sending out, say, an all-singing all-dancing Jeremy Clarkson, Teresa Gorman package to harangue potential customers with a charmless anti-European rant based on petty prejudices which have no place in a civilised society. The British Council was actually formed in the 1930s to combat anti-British Nazi propaganda. I wonder if a German Council has been set up to combat anti-German British propaganda whose job it is to deaden the impact of repeated-to-the-point- of-psychosis "towels round the pool at 6am" jokes, or pictures in the paper of footballers with German helmets on.

Now, I foresee a few problems with using top footballers to promote Blighty, not least of which is how much the little gold mines are going to cost. I mean we're not sending the back four from Rushden and Diamonds out there in a charabanc with a Tupperware of cheese sandwiches are we? This mob are going to be charging a fair old whack for their services.

Not only that, Mr D Beckham and his Manchester United colleagues are too busy as it is; extra demands on their time can only result in a potential bad hair day of tragic proportions. It seems to me too that sending footballers round the world ignores a large section of British society - the ladies! Oh sorry, I forgot. We just have to sit about looking pretty until Miss World comes round. Or perhaps some of us could go with them to make the sandwiches. Come on British Council, why not send out a women's netball team? It would only cost 10 bob and we could all do our own hair.

It seems ironic too that we are choosing to represent Britain with a sport which, in the last few years, has become the least British it has ever been, because the huge sums of money available have attracted the best from all over the globe, bolstering the English players and making them look good until they have actually to play together.

Still, I suppose that using football is a better idea than using cricket at the moment. If we send the England cricket team around the world to promote us at the moment, people will just fall about laughing, but I would not mind that because it's time we promoted comedy a bit more.

The problem is that - given the way in which many countries have lost their cultural identity because of the advance of globalism and the invasion of our societies by powerful corporations from America - we are now indistinguishable from those cultures in so many ways. You could be plonked down in any shopping centre in the world pretty much and it would be impossible to tell where you were, because evidence of the invaders is everywhere.

So what is unique about Britain that you couldn't find elsewhere in the world? What message can we send out about our unique society? Here goes...

How about a troupe of morris-dancing, lacrosse-playing royals singing Andrew Lloyd Webber hits from the back of a Bedford Rascal whilst simultaneously cooking Yorkshire pudding and doing tableaux of famous incidents from the history of the Spice Girls. Well that sounds more interesting than a game of footie to me.

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