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Note: it’s Saint George’s Day today. He’s the patron saint of England, and his flag, the red cross on a white background, is the English flag (as opposed to the Union Flag, which incorporates Saint George’s, Saint Andrew’s and Saint Patrick’s crosses – representing England, Scotland and Northern Ireland). The Brits don’t really make much of a fuss over St George’s Day, so we thought it might be nice to use this as an opportunity to celebrate some of our most gorgeous Georges. Here are five:
Saint George Harrison – the patron saint of melody
The ways in which George was a fount of musical astonishment are legion. However, if I have to pick one which is slightly less celebrated than, say, “Here Comes The Sun,” it’s his song “Wah Wah,” which was written after an awful day attempting to record “Let It Be” and arguing with his childhood friend Paul McCartney – the day he walked out of the sessions, in fact, and temporarily left the Beatles. The Wah Wah in the song wasn’t the celebrated guitar effects pedal, it was George’s term for a headache.
Now, in other hands, that kind of inspiration would result in an angry song or a bitter song, but such was the richness of George’s melodic honeypot at the time, that his song sounds like nothing other than a total celebration, a celebratory incantation which exquisitely embodies the joy of putting down a heavy load.
Saint George Orwell – the patron saint of polemicists.
Not his real name, of course, but, like Batman, when Eric Blair put on the mask of George Orwell he became the avenging dark knight of letters, writing astonishing essays against totalitarianism, writing journalistic books about his experiences living rough in Paris and London, writing literary criticism, writing about fighting in the Spanish Civil War, writing the astounding political parables Animal Farm and 1984, and always in his very formally correct and simple style. A tireless champion of human beings against the crushing tyrannies of the state, George’s books found favour on both sides of the political fence, which only serves to prove what a towering voice of reason he was.
Saint George Formby – the patron saint of giddiness
Yes yes yes, he’s got a face like an angler fish, protruding teeth and all, but George was, once upon a time, Britain’s most beloved entertainer. Never a sex symbol, you understand, times were hard during the war but they weren’t THAT hard. Nevertheless the simple joy of George’s risque ditties, his hapless buffoonery and the propulsive thrust of his strumming hand, ensured him the status of a national treasure right up until his death.
Oh and please don’t write to complain that he doesn’t seem to know what his own instrument is called. Banjolele, banjo-uke, ukulele, the principles are the same.
Saint George Eliot – the patron saint of serious writing
With novels still being a very new and exciting form, in the middle of a criminally sexist world, the gifted writer and magazine editor Mary Anne Evans realised that her ideas would never be taken seriously. All the women writers who had been published so far had effectively been herded into a pen, labelled “purveyors of fanciful nonsense” and ignored, much like “chick-lit” writers are patronised today. So, she resolved to let her work speak for itself, and set about writing Middlemarch, The Mill On the Floss, and Silas Marner (among her other works) under a male pen name. Sure enough, this George Eliot was soon hailed as a the voice of the rural underclasses, and ‘his’ books became the wonder of their age.
There clearly is something about pseudonymous British writers that brings out the social crusader, or maybe it’s the socially crusading writers that like the idea of adopting the identity of St George (who has form as a dragon-slayer after all).
Saint George Best – the patron saint of feet
The British do love their soccer, and they love their soccer heroes to be flamboyant and capable of acts of prestidigitation on the field. You’d imagine that there’s not much you can do by kicking a ball that can surprise and delight onces you’ve seen a few football games, but George Best, the David Beckham of the ’60s, proved that there are always new ways to sneak past a defender or two, and lob the ball into the back of the net, while looking as cool as a polar bear’s popsicle.
We shall draw a discrete veil over the later years, when his drinking and carousing put a dent in his national treasure status. It’s too painful to think of those magical feet being made of clay.
Which British George would you canonise? Tell us here:
See more posts by Fraser McAlpine
Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.
He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.
Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic