The heroes of today’s children are footballers such as David Beckham and celebrities like Ant and Dec. Our Victorian counterparts had rather more robust role models, none more so than General Gordon, hero of Khartoum. His bloody death at the hands of the fanatical Sudanese Mahdi Army on 26 January 1885 sent shockwaves through Britain. Within months Gladstone’s government had fallen. With a speedy fall from favour that today’s celebrities would understand only too well, the GOM (Grand Old Man) had become the MOG (Murderer of Gordon), his guilt in Gordon’s death commemorated in the music halls:
The MOG, when his life ebbs out,
Will ride in a fiery chariot
And sit in state
On a red hot plate
Between Pilate and Judas Iscariot.
There were, needless to say, plenty of Gordon hagiographies. The prevalent view – essentially unchallenged until the publication of Lytton Strachey’s combative Eminent Victorians in 1918 (strangely absent