Made in Britain by Adrian Sykes
Published in hardback by Adelphi, £30
WHEN Adrian Sykes — soldier, financier and present proprietor of Kinloch Estate in north Sutherland — was born in Baluchistan in October 1945 great swathes of the world were shaded red on the map.
Not in a declaration of ideological affiliation but to mark the extent of the British Empire, the greatest of all empires in recorded history and foundation of the current hegemony of the English language throughout the world.
Baluchistan itself, now part of Pakistan, was then a small province of British India, the jewel in the crown of that colossal endeavour.
In Adrian’s lifetime the empire has evaporated and, as his 616-page magnum opus went to press in 2011, the Union of the four small countries, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, very dear to his heart, and which had so recently extended their influence across a quarter of the world’s landmass, not to mention a fifth of its people, was coming under threat of dissolution.
Shocked by the revelation that 23 per cent of the British people believed that Winston Churchill was a character from myth while an even more staggering 58 per cent thought Sherlock Holmes was a real person, Adrian had set out to produce a readable compendium of the history of the British nations encompassing the key characters and events that had propelled our small amalgam of countries to pre-eminence on the global stage. Made in Britain is the result.
Devoid of historical analysis, and certainly without any hint of revisionism, it moves on an inexorable timeline from the ice age to the modern era through a vast and fascinating series of tableaux, 50 or more per century as we move forward through time, each recounting the key attributes of individuals who have had a role to play in the great game which led to the present.
Lavishly illustrated, and peppered with interesting asides, it gives a "warts and all" view of historical characters down the ages.
James I and VI, for example, famous in school textbooks for his personal interest in the production of that wonderful translation of the Bible which was in universal use in the English-speaking world till recent times, had other, much less Godly, things on his mind!
And remember that old song, "Lloyd George Knew My Father"? It is much more likely he knew your mother — and not in the best of senses!
Indeed, if you are astonished by the shenanigans of parliamentarians, bankers, royalty and aristocracy in the present age, reading this will provide immunisation.
The real truth is that too much power and too much money have always had a corrupting influence and always will no matter how well regulated banks, press, and even parliaments, may become.
However, Made in Britain, though leavened with the foibles of the famous across the centuries, is not just "Horrible History" for adults but a passionate and fascinating account of the many people, many places and many circumstances which have led our nation to its present place in a turbulent and rapidly changing world.
Reading it is an experience in itself and, if the £30 price tag puts you off, Amazon offers a much better deal on this volume.