In the concluding chapter to his classic travel book, English Journal, written in 1933, J B Priestley wrote this sublime passage:
Ours is a country that has given the world something more than a million yards of calico and thousands of steam engines. If we are a nation of shopkeepers, then what a shop! There is Shakespeare in the window, to begin with ... we stagger beneath our inheritance. But let us burn every book, tear down every memorial, turn every cathedral and college into an engineering shop, rather than grow cold and petrify, rather than forget that inner glowing tradition of the English spirit.
And this from a man who was branded as a left-wing upstart and whose novels were rubbished – not his plays – on account of their selling so well.
Trevor Fishlock, in the first chapter of My Foreign Country, echoes and equals Priestley, both in prose and vision:
The new generations in Britain are the first who are not shaped by war and the threat of conquest. Nor are they fashioned by the intimate industrial societies. They do not follow their fathers to the pit, the factory, the docks, the steelworks, the mill, the shipyard. They do not qualify