Boris Johnson’s appointment as Foreign Secretary was greeted with a degree of incredulity last night – especially on social media where there was a resounding meme-explosion. Yet there may be good reasons to think that he will actually be a tremendous success on the international stage.
After all, the world loves a bumbling Brit. Mr Bean is so popular, he came sixth in a 2014 list of people that foreigners most associated with the UK. The original episodes of Rowan Atkinson’s comedy have been sold to more than 200 territories and the films were huge global smashes – despite the basic character having barely evolved since 1990. Audiences abroad cannot get enough of Bean’s odd mix of buffoonery and passive-aggression.
Norman Wisdom meanwhile, was famously big in Albania, his films having been about the only Western movies permitted for public viewing under the Cold War regime of Enver Hoxha. Wisdom’s brilliance as a clown – without recourse to bad language, sex or violence – was matched by a charm that swathes of the Balkans must have imagined came naturally to every Englishman.
And as for Benny Hill, he once remarked he could “get my face slapped in six different languages”, such was his international appeal. In the mid-‘80s he was earning up to $5million a year from screenings of The Benny Hill Show in America alone. His twinkly-eyed double-entendres went down a storm in Europe too.
Boris can surely follow in the footsteps of these great British ex-pats. He is, remember, the man who once got stuck on a zip-wire with a Union flag in each hand – which Johnny Foreigner wouldn’t find that kind of prank a hoot? And when he bumbles off to Africa, joshing about the “picaninnies” and “tribal warriors” with their “watermelon smiles”, all the while struggling to keep his blond mop out his eyes and his over-sized, man-from-Del-Monte-style suit from tumbling round his ankles, won’t he be taken to the bosom of every local he meets, including Presidents and PMs?
Indeed, the Foreign Secretary is already ahead of the game, having developed his BoJo stage-name long ago. Pitkin, Ernie the Milkman, Bean and BoJo – it’s a comedy bloodline of the highest aristocratic order. All Boris has to do is trip over the red carpet or make a gag about whiff-whaff and he’ll have the dignitaries eating out of the palm of his hand – from Washington to Moscow, and Beijing to Lagos.
And if the visual stuff isn’t enough, there is always another English role model to consider: Hugh Grant, especially the 1994-99 version. Boris does, after all, have form for ‘rom’ as well as ‘com’, and he could probably do rather well in the kind of role dear old Hugh made his own in Four Weddings… and Notting Hill. Plenty of “gosh” and “golly”, lots of hair tousling, a bit of a dalliance with a pretty Julia Roberts-type, and who would doubt that for Britain and for BoJo, there will ultimately be a happy ending.
After all, if we’ve learned anything from British comedy’s greatest exports it is that we must Always Look on the Bright Side of Life…
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