X

Create an account to continue reading.

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles
For unlimited access to The Spectator, subscribe below

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles

Sign in to continue

Already have an account?

What's my subscriber number?

Subscribe now from £1 a week

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
 
View subscription offers

Already a subscriber?

or

Subscribe now for unlimited access

ALL FROM JUST £1 A WEEK

View subscription offers

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Login

Don't have an account? Sign up
X

Subscription expired

Your subscription has expired. Please go to My Account to renew it or view subscription offers.

X

Forgot Password

Please check your email

If the email address you entered is associated with a web account on our system, you will receive an email from us with instructions for resetting your password.

If you don't receive this email, please check your junk mail folder.

X

It's time to subscribe.

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access – from just £1 a week

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
X

Sign up

What's my subscriber number? Already have an account?

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Your subscriber number is the 8 digit number printed above your name on the address sheet sent with your magazine each week. If you receive it, you’ll also find your subscriber number at the top of our weekly highlights email.

Entering your subscriber number will enable full access to all magazine articles on the site.

If you cannot find your subscriber number then please contact us on customerhelp@subscriptions.spectator.co.uk or call 0330 333 0050. If you’ve only just subscribed, you may not yet have been issued with a subscriber number. In this case you can use the temporary web ID number, included in your email order confirmation.

You can create an account in the meantime and link your subscription at a later time. Simply visit the My Account page, enter your subscriber number in the relevant field and click 'submit changes'.

If you have any difficulties creating an account or logging in please take a look at our FAQs page.

Books

Jane Austen and Winston Churchill are practically the only credible banknote candidates

26 June 2013

12:37 PM

26 June 2013

12:37 PM

Silly season is here. A minor row has broken out over which long-dead figures should appear on the reverse side of Bank of England notes. I can’t be bothered to relate the details because you’ve all got better things to do like water the garden, fix lunch or watch Loose Women. Basically, Sir Mervyn King’s got it in the neck from the Continuity Bien Pensants by seeming to back Winston Churchill and Jane Austen for this dubious accolade. So far, so ludicrous. But there’s one more point worth making.

The criteria for this banknote business are that the subject must be enduringly famous and recognisable. This does rather limit the field, particularly where ‘politically correct’ candidates are concerned. What proportion of the population could identify Mary Seacole? Who could pick a Pankhurst out of a line-up? And how many people could accurately describe what any of the above did with their unusual lives?

[Alt-Text]


There’s a good exhibition at the Tower of London showing how the Crown has used coinage as a tool of power and unity. It did so by surrounding the head of the king with simple religious and temporal iconography, which suggested that the monarch was God’s chosen representative on Earth (Parliament tried the same formula in the mid-17th century during the interregnum). This worked because the lumpen-proletariat grasped what it was looking at.

Churchill and Austen are among the most obvious choices to appear on a banknote, and that’s why they are suitable candidates. The Bank of England understands that propaganda persuades best when it engineers an existing stream of knowledge, sentiment and opinion (see Aldous Huxley for more details). Those who threaten Sir Mervyn King with the Equality Act, or, worse, the complete works of Susan Sontag, believe that the “right” opinions can be imposed. A visit to the British Library’s brilliant propaganda exhibition might dissuade them from that view: it has been tested to destruction, and by people who were considerably more determined than Sir Mervyn’s detractors.

UPDATE: Some commentators say that we don’t know what Austen looked like. You might say the same about Jesus Christ. It doesn’t stop either of them being recognisable. All the Bank of England requires is artwork upon which to base a representation. The likeness below is widely known through books, DVD sleeves and so forth.

Jane Austen

Give something clever this Christmas – a year’s subscription to The Spectator for just £75. And we’ll give you a free bottle of champagne. Click here.


Show comments
Close