Hapless spy’s moniker shows the joke’s on us

What's in a name? Rowan Atkinson at the premiere of Johnny English Reborn, the latest film to feature his hapless spy character
What's in a name? Rowan Atkinson at the premiere of Johnny English Reborn, the latest film to feature his hapless spy character

I’VE lost the filmgoing habit, but I get all the cinematic kicks I need from double-decker buses.

The elongated upper-deck adverts plugging the latest movies are enough to keep you in touch with what’s hot in the wonderful world of cinema. At the moment, I notice that Rowan Atkinson is back, reprising his bungling espionage agent in Johnny English Reborn.

This character, of course, made his debut in a long series of quite amusing 1990s ads for a well-known credit card, before starring in the quite amusing 2003 movie Johnny English. No doubt the latest entry in the canon is quite amusing too.

There is one aspect of the character, however, that I find less than amusing. His surname.

Johnny English is the most inept in a long line of inept TV and movie spies (the spy spoof has been with us almost as long, if not longer, than the films and characters they spoof). The movies in which he features are aimed at a global audience.

The writers and Rowan Atkinson could have chosen another surname for the character, but “English” was selected because it was presumably felt that this global audience would smile with recognition, anticipating the ludicrous on-screen antics to come. The message would appear to be that Johnny English is a bungling buffoon BECAUSE he’s English... or that a character called “English” could only be a bungling buffoon.

This is a blooming insult. There was a recent movie called Captain America, and there was no expectation that it would contain bungling super-hero antics. If it had been named Captain England, it would presumably have been played for laughs.

So this is the state of our reputation in the world today! A laughing stock among nations. But we had best not be too po-faced about it. We can take a joke. We are English, after all...