Your RDA of Irony

The Iron Lady

Margaret Thatcher is now completely dead.  The film “The Iron Lady” remorsely depicted her recent years, that sharp mind and temper lost in dementia.  In fact, that cruel accuracy was the most memorable facet of the movie.  The script itself was confused and befuddled.  The hapless viewer really had trouble keeping track of her life; apparently, “The King and I” took place on the Falklands.  She may have also murdered the Little Princes in the Tower by cutting off their school lunch programs.

Of course, Meryl Streep gave a remarkable performance.  She could impersonate every British prime minister, probably simultaneously.

From the archives, here is my prime minister primer.

My idea of casual conversation would include an allusion to Benjamin Disraeli. My acquaintance’s idea of a response was “Who?”  I hoped that I maintained a stoic mien but my eyebrows might have been doing the semaphores of  “How can you be so ignorant?” The lady, a friend of a neighbor, is Gentile; so she would have been indifferent to the most interesting feature of Disraeli. I just provided her with a brief description of a “British prime minister of the 19th century and a man of extraordinary charm and wit.”

Now, I don’t want to seem like a pedantic bully  (even if I really am) but I think that a middle-aged college graduate should have heard of Benjamin Disraeli. He is not obscure. It is not as if I had belabored the poor woman with such prime ministerial ciphers as Henry Campbell-Bannerman or James Callahan. (And if I had mentioned Andrew Bonar Law, she might have slapped me.)

I realized that Americans’ criterion for historical significance is whether or not it was made into a movie. But Disraeli has been, and he has been portrayed by George Arliss, John Gielgud, Alec Guinness and Ian McShane. Given Disraeli’s origins, Adam Sandler or Ben Stiller may feel entitled to play him! No, that woman should have heard of Disraeli.

In fact, I think that a number of British prime ministers merit at least a minimum of recognition.

Robert Walpole (1721-1741), a $2,000 question on Jeopardy but he was the first prime minister.

Lord North (1770-1782), the idiot during the American Revolution.

William Pitt the Younger (1783-1801, 1804-1806) if only because Pittsburgh was named for his father.

Earl Grey (1830-1834) because he had such great taste in tea. Yes, really.

Benjamin Disraeli (1868, 1874-1880): He needs no introduction.

William Gladstone (1868-1874, 1880-1885, 1886, 1892-1894): Disraeli’s rival. If Disraeli was Groucho, Gladstone was Margaret Dumont.

David Lloyd George (1916-1922) in case you were wondering who was standing next to Woodrow Wilson at Versailles.

Neville Chamberlain (1937-1940) who is now remembered as an insult and an accusation.

Winston Churchill (1940-45, 1951-1955), the man George Bush claimed to be–give or take the eloquence.

Margaret Thatcher (1979-1990): Disraeli’s politics with Gladstone’s charm.

Tony Blair (1997-2007) if only to prove that you were not completely oblivious.

David Cameron…oh maybe not.

  1. Peg Pruitt says:

    This middle-aged, college graduate Gentile has certainly heard of Disraeli (and not from movies). My college history classes contained actual history.

    • Eugene Finerman says:

      And would you have slapped me if I had referred to Andrew Bonar Law? He actually had the distinction of being the only Canadian-born British prime minister.

  2. Leslie Jo says:

    According to Wikipedia, Disraeli was also Jewish! Yes. I looked him up; so slap me. I vaguely remember history (classes and in general), and always wondered why the band Cream titled an album “Disraeli Gears”. Well, because of this post, I looked it up and this is what I found:

    Thank you! I’m a huge Eric Clapton fan. His autobiography Clapton was, as the kids say these days, “Awesomesauce!” (I would have underlined the name of the book but haven’t figured out how to do that unless I’m using a word processing program.)

    I hope I’m not driving you crazy tonight with all of my comments, but reading your posts is the only thing keeping me sane tonight.
    P.S. I swear I’ve only taken one pain killer. I’m just being me.

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