Before anyone writes to correct me, I do know that Deborah Kerr was born in Helensburgh, and is therefore actually Scottish, however, over almost two decades, from the late 1940's until the early 1960's, for much of the world she was one of a select group of women who represented the ideal of cool English beauty.
More than most, Kerr personified what was popularly referred to as an English Rose. Many of her contemporaries, such as the violet eyed Elizabeth Taylor, or the sultry Joan Collins, although born in Britain, seem firmly located in the mid-Atlantic, whilst the likes of the lovely Audrey Hepburn, actually born in Belgium, exuded a European chic which would break its kitten heel on a Yorkshire moor, yet even they aspired repeatedly to play English Roses. At that time an English Rose was what most British girls, and many woman across the world wanted to be.
Englishness such as that portrayed by Kerr had a currency, and her predecessors, like Phyllis Calvert or the exquisite Margaret Lockwood, who were great stars in Britain despite making less impact in Hollywood, were quintessentially and passionately English whilst those who did make it big in Hollywood, such as Greer Garson and Anna Neagle occasionally seemed to overplay their Englishness to the point of caricature.
Another great British movie star, the troubled Vivien Leigh, the first Lady Olivier, who's heyday preceded Deborah Kerr's by about a decade is now primarily remembered as the feisty Southern Belle, of Irish Origin, Scarlett O'Hara, in “Gone With the Wind” or as the tragic Blanche DuBois, a role, perhaps too close for comfort, in "A Streetcar named Desire". However, at the zenith of her fame, and to her bedazzled fans at the time, she was nothing less than an iconic English Rose.
As a Scott, Deborah Kerr was perhaps playing a role when she donned the mantle of Englishness, but, actors play roles which suit the culture of their age and as a true Brit, she seems to have instinctively known what the role required. A grace and refinement, which transcended class, a reserved sensuality that is is never slatternly and most vitally, a sense of honour, kindness and decency which radiated from any rose worthy of the name. Although Kerr personally had physical beauty in abundance, great beauty is not an essential requirement of an English Rose, rather the English Rose had an inner beauty, which has a far longer lifespan than transitory physical beauty and travels into old age with those English women who possess it.
Kerr carried that grace and refinement into all her celluloid roles, even managing to play Karen Holmes in the famous beach scene in From Here to Eternity with a dignity which never came close to the down and dirty blatantness favoured by the Susanna Yorks Glenda Jacksons and Charlotte Ramplings who were to follow her.
Indeed, those who have seen the film will remember that it was Burt Lancaster's body which was primarily on display amongst the surf and not Kerr's.
Of a different, but equally famous role. I have occasionally heard people wrongly describe Deborah Kerr's great venture into musicals, lip-synching to Marni Nixon's voice in Rogers and Hammerstein's The King and I, as an early venture into interracial romance. However, even a cursory analysis of themes of the movie reveals the error of such an assessment, whilst demonstrating a respect for other cultures, the story clearly exposes the chasm which exists between races, and with the King's death demonstrates how damaging and indeed fatal, attempts to impose one culture upon another will inevitably be.
Kerr was a class act, and for almost two decades, she embodied how much of the world viewed English women, depite attempts by Diana Dors or Yvonne Mitchell to present an alternative image.
However, it is not my aim to celebrate the career of Deborah Kerr, who sadly died last year, but to question why an ideal she represented and which had existed for centuries, up to a generation ago, has now almost completely vanished, to be replaced by something which is it's complete antithesis. Why is it that, when our mother's generation aspired to become an English Rose our daughters seem to favour the common ragwort.
The female celebrities of our age are the likes of the slatternly Cheryl Cole, the tattooed and substance dependant Amy Winehouse and the largely bionic Katie Price, women whom a generation earlier would have been lucky to appear in the red lighted windows of Amsterdam or the Reeperbahn, if in Europe at all, rather than the front pages of children's magazines.
Today, little girls play with dolls called Bratz, which appear to represent mixed race, botox enhanced, re-pubescent sluts in minuscule, buttocks exposing, skirts, and nobody views that as unhealthy. From an early age, the next generation of women are being taught to admire females who are one step up from being backstreet hookers, some less than a step, and informed that the ultimate female ambition is to be a pelmet skirted executive at work, and a slapped up gangsta's Ho at home.
I used to think that the type of girl who fell for the “spread your legs and show your power” school of feminism were victims of cynical male voyeurs, but I now suspect that the aims behind it are more sinister than that, can it be that those who seek our downfall believe that by turning the sort of people who our parents would have viewed as the lowest of the low in to social icons, they can undermine the values which built our society.
Furthermore, by enticing young white women to behave as whores they will inevitably become more receptive to the sort of, frequently non white, men who will treat them as such. Is this really what those who campaigned for women's rights fought for?
As far as the women's movement is concerned many believe the rot set in during the late 60's, when those who aspired to parity with men were replaced by radical lesbians or fanatics who viewed all sex between men and women as acts of rape and scorned contemporary attitudes to femininity as subjugation. However, I doubt that even the most man hating of bull dykes ever thought they would see a day when women believe they can gain respect by exposing their bare bottoms.
It is as if feminism lost its way, fell asleep and woke up in a Bangkok cathouse.
What seems to be a desire to be demeaned extends well beyond young girls, visit the city any day and you will see women, old enough to know better, travelling to work in suits which are too short and too small to qualify as smart, and who no doubt wonder why there is still a glass ceiling.
In politics, similarly embarrassing spectacles can be seen, does our Home Secretary, Jackie Smith really believe she can be taken seriously, reading some statement on terrorism or social upheaval, when her exposed cleavage fills most of a wide angle TV screen, or do ambitious ministers like Caroline Flint really expect to be viewed as anything other than a token women when she wears skirts split to areas best left to the contemplation of one's gynaecologist?
I am certainly not suggesting that western women embrace the burkah, but how can society, let alone male society, respect women who do not respect themselves. The English Rose of yesterday had self respect, yet one has to wonder if today's common ragwort, dressed in what amounts to little more than two band aids and a pocket handkerchief, even understands the concept.
This is a subject I have touched on before, the propaganda aimed at young women is so relentless one has to wonder if there is a deliberate aim to it. Does a nation fall when its women become whores? If that the game plan? For that certainly seems to be what is happening.
The male role model is also changing, but not to the same degree as the female, for every Ashley Cole or Pete Doherty, our celebrity culture still embraces a few remaining chiselled jawed men who would not took out of place in the company of Cary Grant and David Niven. But where are the Ann Todds, the Margaret Lockwoods the Joan Greenwoods or indeed the Deborah Kerrs? How often does one see a female celebrity under 50 who could be fairly called a lady?. There may be some but there are not many left and they do not appear in the magazines our children read or the TV shows they watch.
In an age when the queen's own granddaughter (allegedly) cavorts in the nude and ogles black men we must sadly accept that the the English Rose has become an endangered species whilst the common ragwort thrives in plague like proportions.
NB: This post should in no way be seen as a comment on the excellent English Rose blog which remains highly recommended