Ford Maddox Ford on “the Gentle Tory”

David Priestland had a fascinating but flawed take on Tom Stoppard’s take on FMF’s take on the Tory type (The Gentle Tory is alive and well – on television). Actually, I say, the BBC drama is unsurprisingly BBC-ish, but with valuable quirks. Its adaptor may be rightish, but the BBC’s leftishness can live with this show pretty well. 

For David Priestland the BBC’s rendition of Parade’s End is an example of a country and culture, and especially its conservatives, running for cover in the face of a failure by the merchant classes. They seek a nostalgic, landed Tory squirearchy sort of a figure. Instead, he suggests, the lesson they should draw comes from Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony of the Olympics, and the Social Democrats.

He accepts, I think, that FMF’s hero, Christopher Tietjens, is on a journey: stuffy, buttoned-up and racist (that last bit may be in the book not the TV series) and encounters with war and feminism open him up. So where we are now, early in the series, is hardly conclusive.

But surely Priestland misses the big point here. It is quite possible that Stoppard likes complicated, awkward Tories, or finds them interesting. And the BBC can like the whole Parade’s End enterprise, even with Stoppardian (slightly rightish) spins, because it is one long riff on the difficulties Toryism finds itself in. Tietjens is some sort of noble Tory, even at the beginning of the series. But he is a Tory out of step with his class and type. He is at odds with the sordid facts of Tory and wider power structures. So in Tietjens (the BBC’s commissioners can suppose) we see the man David Cameron might have aspired to be had he the courage to be awkward instead of smooth. Tietjens may not be the ideal that modern Tories should aspire to, but – the BBC can enjoy saying – they are certainly failing the characterful nobility – the authenticity – which Tietjens exemplifies.

In short, David Priestland doesn’t to have worry that the BBC’s gone soft. It’s not banging the drum in the way it did when it did FMF in the 1960’s, but its message now is just as difficult for Tory voters.

Nor actually, are serious Tories running for cover. The fundamentals of the intelligent right-wing are in place and gaining ground.



I think one way to simplify all the different nuances might be to say that the runaway freight train which is modernity has made the concept of a tory (especially in today's political climate) a very contradictory thing indeed. When one considers how secular and decadent the culture has become since the so called reforms of the 1960s, it becomes difficult to see if there really is a toryism. It becomes even more difficult to see how the modern political class of today who refer to themselves as such are in any way genuine tories. Traditional notions of Christianity and a life centered around community and family were severely beaten by the first world war, murdered by the second and carried of to the morgue by the nepharious post war culture. In between there was a pseudo religion that went something like "we won the war" or perhaps "Churchill won the war". Everything we see know (islamism, radical ignorant youth, sexual decadence, abortion on demand, drug use, no education concerning our literature or history or pride in country, legacy of empire, etc.) are merely the fallout from all of that as far as I can see. The debate between tories and new labour (which is really old labour with a facelift) is largely concerned with how to accomodate these changes which are tragically considered by many to be progress. David Priestland, Tom Stoppard and Ford Maddox Ford seem to be dancing around each other all having a somewhat different take on what nuanced label is to be maintained; that is, how shall the pretense of toryism maintain istelf? With a pretense of maintaining traditional values? Or with a pretense of supposedly being private property and free market? It seems like a superflous question at this point. I agree with you there has been a mild backlash against the initiatives of the last half century but the idea that the overall trend will somehow change seems a bit optimistic

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Publication date

05 September 2012