Rhodes on a new look at the British Empire, the Falklands War and chatty jurors

Read the latest column from Peter Rhodes.

David Tennant as Phileas Fogg. Photograph: Tudor Cucu/BBC/Slim 80 Days.
David Tennant as Phileas Fogg. Photograph: Tudor Cucu/BBC/Slim 80 Days.

When the Beeb unveiled Around The World in 80 Days, David Tennant who stars as Phileas Fogg, suggested it would reflect badly on the British Empire. Yet so far the old Empire has not come out of it too badly.

In India we saw a native soldier court-martialled and facing forced labour. But after Fogg asked for mercy, the British officer in charge commuted this draconian punishment to a dishonourable discharge. In Hong Kong, Fogg was arrested for theft and was sentenced to be flogged. While the sentence was savage it applied to all thieves. Fogg's status as a British citizen could not save him from the lash.

So in this version of the Empire, armies are officered by soft-hearted British chaps and punishment is awarded regardless of your race or colour. How enlightened, how progressive, how very democratic. Tell us, Phileas, when does the Empire-bashing start?

Another bit of the Empire will be making news later this year with the 40th anniversary of the Falklands War. I have interviewed dozens of veterans of that brief, bloody little war. They tend to have two things in common. Firstly, I can't recall a single Falklands veteran who was not proud to have fought in the conflict. But most of them believed the Falklands issue should have been settled by diplomacy long before the missiles started flying. Some call it a “good” war but it was actually the worst sort of war. An avoidable war.

After a trial, jurors in the United States can publicly discuss how they reached their decision. Under English law this is strictly forbidden. Pity. It would be fascinating to know how a jury in Bristol reached its not guilty verdict this week. For if tearing down a statue and chucking it in the harbour is no longer considered criminal damage, then what is?

You'll be aware by now that anti-Covid face masks come in all sorts of colours and designs. Yet still they can surprise us. One online dealer is offering masks with the distinctive square-and-compass logo of the Freemasons. You can see the sense in it. At a time when handshakes – even secret masonic handshakes – are discouraged, masons can identify each other with a knowing tap of the mask. But it's an odd sort of secret society that wears its badge on the nose.

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