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Be a Better Britophile: Why We Love a Loser


A blogumn by Fiona Craig

What’s wrong with us? We won a shed load of medals this summer at the Beijing Olympics and nobody quite knows what to make of it. Some of the gold medallists appeared on breakfast TV, others on quiz shows but generally the congratulatory backslapping was cringe worthy TV.

We’re just not used to winning.

Years and years pass with barely a quarterfinal appearance at any major sporting event; cricket, soccer, tennis, ski jumping, you name it – we ain’t won it [recently]. But we’re still devoted to our try-ers. Like Mummies at school sports day, we keep cheering on our little darlings; the English cricket team, the Scottish soccer team, tennis players, Tim Henman and now Andy Murray et al. And when they predictably don’t win first prize, we wrap them up in our unconditional love anyway. “Who cares about those nasty Chinese/American/German big boys, we love you because you tried your best– it’s not the winning that counts, it’s the taking part”

Where did this crap come from?

You might say it all stems from the demise of the British Empire (no seriously, there’s mileage in this). The Brits ‘ vice-like grip on its far-flung colonies is forcibly loosened so we’re told to take failure on the chin like a man. Good sportsmanship and being gracious in defeat (in sports we created damnit) is rated above all else.

Did this attitude of keeping a stiff upper lip ignominiously erode our desire to win?

Skip to the hero’s welcome for short-sighted, puny, ski-jumping failure Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards from the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics.

Need I say more?

Failure tunes right into the British sense of humour. We adore the tragicomedy of the looser: David Brent, Alan Partridge, Basil Fawlty, Frank Spencer, Harold Steptoe, all classic anti-heroes of British sitcom, all deluded and downtrodden, victims of human frailty. (Just like us?)


It’s all horribly familiar. You’ve got to laugh.

Bands like The Smiths and Pulp make ‘loserdom’ seem like a romantic ideal. High achievers and those with great ambition are mocked and belittled with “who do they think they are?”

Nothing gives the newspapers or radio DJs greater pleasure than to ‘slag off’ Victoria Beckham or reality TV star Jade Goody for having aspirations above their station.

We do the whole self-deprecation thing with the same dazzling aplomb Usain Bolt usually saves for catching a bus.

It’s just too easy.

Mayor Boris Johnson

Mayor Boris Johnson

So back to the Olympics, and already we are wetting our Union Jack knickers laughing at the farce that is the planning of the 2012 games in London. Far from being patriotic and proud, the average Brit looks for ways of pulling the event down, like a half-hearted high jumper. It doesn’t help that the newly elected London mayor, Boris Johnson, is a caricatured, bumbling, upper class twit with an embarrassing habit of calling a spade a spade. The last time we had this much fun was when the Millennium Bridge was closed two days after opening because it wobbled. Everyone had expected it to go wrong, it did and we laughed. That’s how it goes over here. Failure is comfortable, predictable and funny. Who wants to win anyway?

In fact, here are vids of some of our favorite losers below:

Harold Steptoe in Steptoe and Son

Alan Partidge

Basil Fawlty in Fawlty Towers

David Brent in The Office