The British Empire Library

Mad Dogs And Englishmen: A Grand Tour Of The British Empire At Its Height 1850-1945

by Dr Ashley Jackson

Courtesy of OSPA

Terry Barringer (Editor and Bibliographer; formerly OSPA Research Officer)
Everyone interested in imperial history should put this sumptuous book on their Christmas present list - and buy a new coffee table to put it on. The opening words whet the appetite:

"MAD DOGS AND ENGLISHMEN takes as its inspiration the vivid representations of the British Empire conveyed by a wide range of media throughout its 'high noon' in the 19th and 20th centuries. The power of imperial imagery and ideas was immense, reverberating around the globe and defining the way in which millions of people viewed themselves and the world. No nation or international organization could lay claim to such widespread influence or such all-pervasive iconography as the British Empire."

Illustrations, many in colour, take up over half the book. They come from a great range of sources: advertising, popular literature, missionary tracts, stamps, cigarette cards, postcards and other collectables, biscuit tins, jigsaws and board games. Many come from Ashley Jackson's own collection of memorabilia. The book is arranged thematically with chapters on maps, atlases and surveys; missionaries and humanitarians; explorers; the monarchy and native potentates; the military; routes and ports; architecture and engineering; sports and safaris; music and popular culture; public schools. Masonic Lodges and Clubs; produce and marketing.

A chapter is devoted to "A World to Govern: District Officers, Chiefs and Whitehall". It is gratifying to read Jackson's brisk dismissal of the canard that colonial officials "nasty, brutish and in shorts" were paid handsomely to lord it over the natives. His assessment is positive:

"Colonial civil servants despatched from Britain formed a dedicated, hard-working and highly professional cadre that successfully governed millions of people, in the process creating proto-nations and leaving behind political structures that endure to the present day."

Dr Jackson, a Senior Lecturer at King's College London and author of several books on maritime and military aspects of Empire, with a major new book on Churchill in the pipeline, wears his learning lightly. There are no footnotes although there is a good bibliography, a useful index and an unobtrusive acknowledgements and list of sources. Actually, I regretted the lack of footnotes as there were many times when I wished to trace a quotation or extract (such as the reminiscences of Richard Aston, on pp 186 ff, which show how the home life, schooling and reading of a lad growing up in Wales in the 1930s and 1940s was full of reminders of empire) to its source. It is evident from the text, as well as from the bibliography, that Dr Jackson is well acquainted with the latest scholarship, particularly the work of John MacKenzie (whom he quotes frequently and approvingly) and other writers in the Studies in Imperialism series of Manchester University Press. There is a long-running debate between Professors MacKenzie and Bernard Porter about the impact and influence of the Empire on British popular culture. There is no doubt that Jackson is a MacKenzie-ite.

His style is lively and colloquial, with flashes of wit. An analogy I particularly relished comes on p 11: "The British had the biggest beach-towel by far, and the sight of it, draped over every continent and peninsula around the world, drove the Germans and the other colonial also-rans to distraction." But the book is undergirded by sound scholarship and would be an ideal gift for a grandchild or student in need of an introductory text. The chapter on the expansion of the Empire is a model of clarity that gives the dates and explains the terminology (sorting out dominions, colonies, mandates etc) in an easily digestible form. It gives a concise and balanced account of the motive forces, the push and pull factors of Imperial expansion (with a little help from both Sir John Seeley and George MacDonald Fraser's egregious Flashman).

There are a few errors of fact which should have been picked up in proof reading. In the main text and in the index a knighthood is erroneously conferred on Charles Darwin (Palmerston proposed Darwin for the honour; the proposal was squashed by the establishment); it is inappropriate to refer to CMS as Church Mission Society rather than as the Church Missionary Society, the name by which it was known until 1995.

If the book has a weakness it is in its periodisation. Images from two centuries are jumbled together. The terminal date in the title is 1945 but this is highly misleading as there are examples from the 1960s and even beyond. Jackson argues that imperial and colonial images were slow to disappear from the national psyche. He sidesteps most of the debates over nationalism and decolonisation. It is a shame that he did not allow himself a final chapter with images of independence - nationalist protest. Independence Day ceremonies, new flags, posters and commemorative brochures, African parliaments with bewigged speakers and Westminster style maces and much more. Jackson does give some space to dissenting and critical voices and there is no whitewash of some of the more discreditable aspects of the empire story but he comes close to falling into an imperial nostalgia trap.

These are minor quibbles about the text. The great value of the book is in the gathering and reproduction of so many images. The book designer, the picture researchers, the publisher and Dr Jackson himself are to be congratulated on making them available to all of us.

British Empire Book
Dr Ashley Jackson
978 1 84724 607 3


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