Gentlemen don’t spend their time reading lists about what makes a gentleman. So it was with a dash of irony that Country Life magazine produced a guide on how to be a proper gent in the 21st century – and a great deal of it was self-evident. Always be prompt, consider your word your bond, never write with a biro and don’t wear pre-tied bowties. Some I’d disagree with (“Never walk out during a play” could prove foolish in the event of a fire) and others are downright odd. Gentlemen, apparently, make love on their elbows. In order to make it easier to read a book? Difficult to do when the lights are out (which they always should be).
Country Life’s list isn’t really about being a gentleman in the sense of well-mannered and kind, but a gentleman in the sense of being a particular stereotype of upper-middle-class male. It’s basically how to be David Niven or Alan Whicker: the cravatted ones who are never fazed when introduced to some foreign dictator aboard a yacht and who instinctively know how to mouth banalities such as, “So this is wife number three?”
But if the English really must co-ordinate their behaviour according to class archetypes, then I have news for Country Life. I don’t want to be a gentleman! I’d much rather be a cad. One movie that made a big impression on Young Stanley was the 1960 comedy School for Scoundrels, which gave Terry-Thomas his best ever role as a champion of “gamesmanship” – defined as “Pushing the rules to the limit without getting caught, using whatever dubious methods possible to achieve the desired end.” Terry-Thomas’s character gives a splendid display of gamesmanship in a tennis match that he wins unfairly without technically cheating. Make sure one’s opponent faces the sun; serve underarm due to an unspecified war wound; lob over their head if they are at the net, dribble it over the net if they are at the baseline; call their shots out without watching the ball; and every time they crash sun-blinded into the net, give a sympathetic cry of “Hard cheese!”