Not a quiz question, but…

Lord Norton

Lords in action - and not wearing robes

The House of Lords has received a lot of attention in the past few weeks as a result of the Government’s House of Lords Reform Bill.  I am almost tempted to ask as a quiz question if anyone can identify a newspaper (or even television) story about the House of Lords that has not been illustrated by a picture of the State Opening of Parliament.  One of the things that peers find intensely irritating is the use of pictures of us in robes at State Opening, as if this is a picture of the House of Lords as it normally operates.  Virtually no story has been accompanied by a picture of the House in action. 

Indeed, two newspapers have even gone so far as to accompany stories about the House of Lords with pictures of senior judges attending State Opening.  State Opening is attended not only by members of both Houses, but also by members of the judiciary and members of the Diplomatic Corps.  The judges are distinctive because they wear wigs.  Peers do not wear wigs – even the law lords did not wear wigs.  (Though members of the Supreme Court have now their own robes, they do no wear wigs; when they were law lords, they did not have judicial robes – they wore ermine the same as other peers.)   

I am not sure whether the answer is to alter radically State Opening – at least dispensing with peers wearing robes – or to persuade the media that they should educate rather go for the colourful.

9 comments for “Not a quiz question, but…

  1. 16/07/2012 at 11:46 pm

    I share your frustration, but suggesting you should do away with robes at the State Opening is going too far. Perhaps the real reason for this is that the photo libraries used by newspapers mainly carry photos of state opening, given that a picture of everyday business is normally of little interest to most people.

    Perhaps you could start a campaign of writing to national newspapers pointing out this issue. Once it’s been printed a few times, they might get the message!

    • Lord Norton
      Lord Norton
      20/07/2012 at 9:40 am

      Jonathan: I’m afraid it’s like talking to a brick wall. When I kept drawing the attention of the BBC to the practice, they did initially change the picture but then simply reverted to type and titled it as State Opening! I did once at a meeting draw the attention of the then editor of ‘The Times’ to the fact that the paper had accompanied a story on the House of Lords with a picture of some High Court judges (a practice, which as I mention in the post, is not confined to ‘The Times’). I fear the media appear inherently incapable of breaking out of a rut.

  2. MilesJSD
    17/07/2012 at 3:56 am

    1. The House is there, as Lord Norton says, to work (govern) on behalf of The People;

    but the Robes can be a negatively-emotive distraction
    to both People and Lords themselves.

    Most people can remind themselves that all the State ‘display’ is really, and truly, Indispensably-Historical

    (as I think I got full marks at school for likening to
    “just one of the buttons on a royal flunky’s ornate jacket or coat-tail may well be representing the lives of 100 of our great great great grandfathers’ lives in Britain’s yesteryear, laid down so that we today might stand up and live free from oppression”.)

  3. maude elwes
    17/07/2012 at 9:52 am

    @Lord Norton:

    Why not don ‘the Kings new clothes’ for the next opening. That will ensure very little cost to the tax payer, and will add a demeanor of coolness rarely displayed when those robed to the hilt gather in a coven.

  4. 17/07/2012 at 9:13 pm

    Lord Norton,
    Perhaps thmese would be nice. On even years all Peers could come in the tradctional garb of a Commonwealth country or one of its peoples — you would look fine in a Sarong and pectoral of tusks and jewels. On odd years with numbers totalling less than ten a form of dress honoring an occupation related to the title — you could be a sailor or a shipwright, Then on the remaining years free dress with perhaps groups picking themes: “Surferlords” and “Ballet Baronesses” would really catch the eye.

    Something at least along those lines is probably ideal. An up to date, diverse celebration which keeps up the visual interest…

    • Lord Norton
      Lord Norton
      20/07/2012 at 9:42 am

      Frank Wynerth Summers III: Have you seen the Diplomatic Corps at State Opening? Many attend in traditional dress. I gather they attend by reason of seniority, so some years are more colourful than others.

      • 20/07/2012 at 12:57 pm

        Lord Norton,
        I have seen a bit of it. Still, Lord Hylton dressed in the garb of a Carib from Belize has a certain something as an image which I feel does not yet exist — as one example. Baroness Deech as Princess of Kuwait…

        London’s great tradition of drama would be honored as well.

  5. maude elwes
    22/07/2012 at 5:26 pm

    I think this would look very nice on the Baronesses, Frank. Definitely colourful and pretty.

    And for the Lords, West Indies trad gear.

    Along with a snappy steel band. I love those pans. I really do. They are great. Underestimated.
    Yes, quite roguish.

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