Rolling Stones - from rebels to national treasures

Torbay Weekly

After 50 years the Rolling Stones are to be commemorated with special issue stamps.

The rebels who upset the older generation with their long hair, raucous rock music and drug taking have now become a part of the establishment.

The Beatles are also a part of our heritage. The Glastonbury Festival and Notting Hill Carnival are as much as part of the national calendar as the Oxford and Cambridge boat race.

The 1960s satire Beyond the Fringe caused outrage while Sir Jonathan Miller went on to become a 'national treasure'.

Another star of Beyond the Fringe was Peter Cook.

When Robert Maxwell successfully sued Private Eye magazine, Peter Cook was interviewed on TV wearing a huge Torquay United rosette.

The magazine had accused Maxwell of misappropriating pension funds, clearly a false allegation. Maxwell was the bulwark of the establishment.

Queen Victoria’s son, King Edward VII, had a wild, promiscuous life but, the moment his mother died and he became King, he changed.

As monarchies fell across Europe it might have been his astute public relations and general behaviour as King which saved our monarchy.

As a student in the 1970s, I was never a member of the National Union of Students.

Medical students had their own body, the British Medical Students' Association.

Nationally, there was significant student militancy with sit-ins, strikes, demonstrations and other direct action.

Medical students, especially in the old London Medical Schools, were less politically militant and were more concerned about the hospital rugby team, the price of beer and exams.

They were also about 90 per cent male and majority public school.

The NUS president was a left-wing student from Leeds called Jack Straw, now the Right Honourable, who became Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary.

Our current Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, was one of the Greenham Common women protesting against Margaret Thatcher allowing the Americans to site cruise missiles in Britain.

Even in the USA rebels can turn into the establishment.

Muhammad Ali caused real anger with his anti-Vietnam war and black power stands but, at the end of his life was hailed as an all-American hero.

Without trying to sound too patriotic, this is one of the amazing things that the British do rather well.

Rather than supress rebels the British do something far more damaging; turn them into establishment figures.

This is not new. Until 300 years ago all the ministers advising the King were considered equal but then one, Robert Walpole, became so powerful that his enemies gave him the sarcastic title 'Prime' Minister as a joke.

The name stuck and now there are Prime Ministers all over the world unaware that the title was once sarcastic.

The British ability to move from rebel to national treasure is one of our strengths.

Dissidents in China, Russia, Iran or Belarus do not evolve into the mainstream.

The rebels also change.

Glastonbury is no longer a free for all in the Somerset countryside but a highly organised music festival.

Jack Straw was not a far-left Home Secretary or Foreign Secretary but highly effective mainstream politician.

But does being a rebel help innovation?

It may be that someone who asks questions and disagrees with the status quo helps us all to move forward.

The rock music of the Rolling Stones helped change music in a way that would be impossible for more conventional artists such as Engelbert Humperdinck or Petula Clark.

The problem for the next generation of rebels is social media.

Jack Straw and Sir Jonathan Miller might have fired off some angry tweets in their youth had social media been around; tweets which could be dug up by an investigative journalist many years later.

Who will be on the stamps in 50 years' time, assuming that stamps are still around?

Who will become pillars of society?

All we need to do is to look at today’s music scene and find any artists the older generation hate. It worked for the Rolling Stones.