"..a bardy view!"

Spencer Perceval – Assassinated Prime Minister -1812


"I am murdered!"

Such were the last words of Spencer Percival, who is the only British Prime Minister to have been assassinated.

It was May 11th, 1812 and people spoke like that back then.

Officers and gentlemen, having engaged in a duel and unfortunately suffered a run through with a sword or fatally shot with a pistol, would invariably cry "Sir, you have killed me!" and subsequently die with a typically British stiff upper lip.

True or not, it was expected that officers would always behave with such good sportsmanlike attitudes in order to set an example to their peers or subordinates. The saying "the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton" has been attributed to the Duke of Wellington, and is a reference to fair play, discipline and vigorous sports played in the English Public School system.

Eton, Harrow and Rugby were the character builders of the ruling classes, and the British Empire was forged by their pupils. The reality is that many of those budding British officers did not gain their commission through military aptitude, but because their families were rich enough to buy them their status. Being an officer in the 19th century was an expensive business, particularly if he wanted to join the cavalry.

Your average meagrely paid British infantryman having been pierced by a French bayonet would not have remarked "I say, you have killed me old chap, what jolly rotten luck!"

Had he had the opportunity to say anything it's likely to have been a short expletive beginning with "f" and ending in "k".

Officers on the other hand were expected to be much more fluent due to their better education and upbringing.

War reporters would write back to the Times of London: 'Your humble correspondent can report that Captain Ponsonby-Smythe held his position with great valour on the battlefield, but as his French adversary thrust his saber into his heart, he remarked "you dastardly chap, you have killed me sir!" His last words resonated around his men "you may have seen me off sir, and I salute you for your swordsmanship, but you will not win this war by Jove, for England will ensure that Napoleon will be defeated". At which point our gallant captain fell and with great dignity breathed his last. The nation should rejoice that here on the Spanish Peninsular our finest and bravest sons are fighting to ensure our freedoms against an enemy which would wish to enslave us.'

Naturally, reading that would ensure national fervour and patriotism – propaganda was equally important then as now. It was this romantic embellishment of war and conflict, on land and sea, which fuelled the dreams of young men and heroism, brought about in part by the adventure stories by famous Victorian writers like Kipling, Ryder Haggard and Conan Doyle.

These were the tales which boys wanted to read, and these were the stories they played out in the streets. Boys continued to play in the streets up to the 1980's, long after the famous battles of the 19th century were replaced by those of the 20th.

But then things began to change. With the advent of computer gaming, coupled by parental fears of allowing children to play outside, the rise of the internet, social networking, and the influence of celebrity, fashion, reality shows, etc, it seems that childhood (innocent active childhood) had all but disappeared.

 A recent report has said that children in the UK have the highest obesity levels in Europe which is not a great statistic for a country hosting the Olympics. The experts put it down to bad diet. They want to encourage more food education and cookery lessons in schools highlighting unhealthy food, sugar and salt levels, junk food and fast convenient processed food.

That's not the solution. The solution is to get kids away from their computer screens, i-pads, smart-phones and Wii and get them to be vigorously burning off the calories. A Wii may give the impression that you are a good tennis player or athlete – but it is computer generated without the weight of the bat or ball and nor the muscle required for the real thing.

The baby-boomers of today, those born between 1945 and 1965 are the healthiest, fittest, most affluent generation in history. Yet, during their childhood they ate candies and sweets, and were given bread and dripping for snacks. Indeed, if they had a penny in their pocket they would buy something like a toffee cake or toffee apple, a sherbet dip or a raspberry chew.

They didn't have MacDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, personal computers, mp3 players etc, or any other electronic device designed to encourage sedentary stagnation. No, they played outside without any supervision from their parents (now grandparents) – who are as far removed from their grandchildren culturally then any gone before them.

What's all this got to do with Spencer Percival? Will he be remembered in this 200th anniversary of his death? Probably not, but his last words should be.

When every child hooked on a computer game like World of Warcraft gets zapped by his virtual enemy, they have indeed been murdered – but they won't know that until they've grown older – let’s hope they make it that far.


Disclaimer:  the report from the Times and the character Ponsonby-Smythe are the author's invention and used purely for effect.


May 7, 2012 - Posted by | Arts, Books, Culture, Current Affairs, Education, facebook, Football, General, Humour, Politics, Sport, United Kingdom | , , , , , , , , ,


  1. I must say old chap… that this is a particularly appropriate observation in light of recent events with my older grandchildren (14 & almost 13). Great kids involved in athletics almost year ’round, but Wii ooh… the beat goes on with Xbox, Ipad, Itunes, etc. As we currently absorb and pontificate on the “future shock” that has come to pass, and participate in it through the wizardry and entrepreneurship of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates… I can’t help but be grateful for a childhood without either one of them. We were mostly dependent upon our imagination for entertainment … and as non other than the erstwhile Paul Harvey has described it, “One’s imagination is the most vivid and varied media we have at our disposal!” Aside from that… it requires thought… and calculation… and not by a cpu other than our own brain. My greatest fear for my grandchildren is that your last paragraph will be prophetic for them! All the Best, J


    Comment by John Sitton | May 7, 2012 | Reply

  2. “I am murdered.” Just got zapped by someone from outer space, ‘cool man’. No worries I can have another go just now. A telling piece as usual. There is however something far more sinister at work behind all this, which I cannot quite put my finger on. It has got something to do with being manipulated every way you turn, by banks, big business, and supposedly leaders, most of whom couldn’t lead their way out of a wet paper bag. It’s frightening all right and what is even more frightening, is the people (voter), who actually vote for them. Ah, well, I heard this most cool of a song of like, explaining why I should vote like this. So I did. After all, look who has all the cool things and brass these days, like of?


    Comment by Spook Moor | May 7, 2012 | Reply

  3. Thanks for your comment Spook.


    Comment by Bar De Ness | May 9, 2012 | Reply

  4. I couldn’t agree with you more. Thanks for your comment John.


    Comment by Bar De Ness | May 9, 2012 | Reply

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