Features

Why it’s time for a Cad of the Year Award

Nominations are now open

24 May 2014

9:00 AM

24 May 2014

9:00 AM

Plans are afoot to introduce the Flashman novels, those politically incorrect celebrations of cowardice, bad form and caddish behaviour, to a new generation of readers. But according to Sarah Montague on the Today programme, ‘Flashman is not typical of our times.’

Is she correct? I can think of quite a few latterday Flashmans off the top of my head, such as Fred ‘The Shred’ Goodwin, whose knighthood had to be prised from his cold Scottish fingers. Not only did Fred keep his pension millions when all about him were losing theirs, he also had an extramarital affair. And the other day a photograph went viral showing a ‘touchline father’ tripping up a teenage player who was about to score a try against his son’s team. Or consider Nigel Farage, another classic Flashman on account of his shamelessness. Every embarrassing revelation about his party he simply laughs off, and thereby bolsters his reputation as a lovable rogue.

I think my favourite contemporary Flashman, though, is Rupert Everett. Actresses are terrified of working with him because he is always so bitchy and indiscreet about them afterwards. Julia Roberts ‘smelled vaguely of sweat’, Sharon Stone was ‘unhinged’ and his best friend Madonna stopped speaking to him after he called her ‘whiny old barmaid’.

Madonna And Rupert Everett Stars In The Next Best Thing Photo Lakeshore Entertainment
Rupert Everett starred alongside Madonna in ‘The Next Best Thing’ Photo: Getty

David Beckham, meanwhile, is the bookies’ favourite to be named ‘gentleman of the year’ by Country Life magazine next month. The real test will be whether he accepts it or not. A true gentleman would have a dilemma: on the one hand he would feel it immodest to accept, on the other he would consider it impolite to the organisers and the judges not to. Politeness will no doubt prevail if Becks wins because Becks — lovely, charitable Becks with his nice hair and his shy, winning smile — is truly a gentleman.

Or is he? If there were a cad of the year, might he not also be a candidate for that? After all, he was the chap who tripped up that Argentina player when he didn’t think the ref was looking, and then allegedly went on to have an affair when he didn’t think his wife was looking.

David Beckham Launches His New Bodywear At The H&M Super Bowl Event
David Beckham – Gentleman of the Year? Photo: Getty


Sportmen, with their ruthless spirit, do seem to make good bounders. Think of Kevin Pietersen, the opposite of a team player, a brilliant but selfish batsman who would never dream of ‘walking’ when he knows he has nicked one into the keeper’s gloves. Or Will Carling. When his first marriage ended in divorce, following his ‘friendship’ with the Princess of Wales, he had a child with Ali Cockayne, only to leave her and their 11-month-old son for yet another woman. According to Cockayne, the first she knew of this was when she came across a revised draft of his autobiography in which all references to their relationship had been changed to the past tense.

All this explains the need for a Cad of the Year Award, and The Spectator, on the lookout as it always is for rotten behaviour by MPs and chief executives, is the magazine to launch it. Cads do, after all, make good copy, and they have so much more ‘texture’ than gentlemen.

Ironically, Evelyn Waugh, the man who did more than anyone to invent the modern notion of the gentleman, was himself a cad. Writing to Nancy Mitford in 1956, he said that gentlemanliness provided the explanation for ‘all our national greatness’. He would have known: when rationing ended he took delivery of a bunch of bananas and then ate them all in front of his wide-eyed children.

It is sometimes said that ‘white doesn’t write’, meaning that good characters in fiction bore the readers. It is the cads we remember. Walter White in Breaking Bad is a good example, as is Daniel Cleaver in Bridget Jones’s Diary, and Withnail in Withnail and I — ‘A coward you are, Withnail, an expert on bulls you are not.’ And if you are of the right age, consider Wacky Races. Who is the first character that springs to mind? It’s Dick Dastardly, isn’t it? And can you remember the name of the whiter-than-white gentleman driver? Struggling? It’s Peter Perfect.

Evelyn Waugh

If anything I would say we were becoming more caddish as a nation, not less. For almost a hundred years, the archetypal cad has been Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon, who, having managed to get into a lifeboat as the Titanic went down, then bribed the crew to row it away from other passengers in the water. But if a ship went down today, the women and children wouldn’t stand a chance. Even captains no longer go down with the ship.

And consider the phenomenon that is ‘revenge porn’. Instead of kissing and telling in euphemistic language to the tabloids, like cads did in the good old days, your modern cad posts a graphic sex tape online, one featuring himself hard at it with his ex-girlfriend.

On the subject of bounders who kiss and sell, I once asked James Hewitt, who is almost a parody of a cad, even down to the cravats he wears, if he thought he was one. ‘Or a love rat,’ he said nonchalantly. ‘I don’t think the word cad is particularly vicious. I’ve got to learn to live with it. I think I can.’

Of course he can. He’s a cad! Hewitt would make the perfect chairman of the judges for The Spectator’s Cad of The Year. And it would be cheap to sponsor, because there would be no chance of the winning cad actually stepping forward to collect his prize — if he did then he wouldn’t be a true cad, because he would have shown himself to be a good sport, and therefore disqualified.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Nominate your cad of the year Write to 22 Old Queen Street, London SW1H 9HP, or email cads@spectator.co.uk

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Show comments
  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Flashman readings are on YouTube: “Flashman 1 through 18”.

  • Liz

    Cad is such an inadequate word.

    • Kenneth O’Keeffe

      Would you prefer something stronger, such as ‘c….t’?!

      • Liz

        Yes something stronger, more demeaning, more stigmatising.

        • transponder

          ‘Clueless Berk’ has a pleasing ring to it. And if that’s not accurate enough, how about ‘Callous Jerk’? But you need something that isn’t somehow offering them a backhanded compliment (e.g. ‘you devil, you!’). That’s why Wanker is so good. Wanker of The Year. Definitely.

    • transponder

      One can almost imagine a wink to go along with it. Hewitt’s attitude is a case in point.

  • Tim Reed

    A bit sexist, unless you intend to run a similar ‘Bitch of the Year’ contest.

    Perhaps you’d be too overwhelmed with entries.

    • Camilla Swift

      That’s working on the basis that only a man can be a cad. If you listen to the podcast, Harry and I discuss that exact point…

    • Camilla Swift

      That’s working on the basis that only a man can be a cad. If you listen to the podcast, Harry and I discuss that exact point…

      • Tim Reed

        Fair enough, even though I was only really being flippant.

        I haven’t listened yet – but the word itself does tend to have a gender specific use, in general.

        • transponder

          True, but I’ve always maintained that women can be gentlemen, too. : )

          • girondas

            Gentlewoman perhaps. I think the word can be used in that way.
            The tale about Waugh might be slightly unfair on him, As I heard it he was trying to stop his children being corrupted by Government largesse (free bananas). Weird, but in a different way.
            I was trying to think of a memorable cutlery reference.- “As the soupspoon of fate slid remorselessly into the tureen of destiny” but I can’t make it work. Maybe you can do better.

          • transponder

            I prefer gentleman, all the same.

          • girondas

            By all means refer to yourself as a gentleman, though beware:
            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KaNoP0zSSgo

            You are of course welcome to use my aphorism (for ’tis mine!). I admit though that I borrowed the “format” from the greatest and longest running radio show in the history of broadcasting: “I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue” Is it known in the States?

          • transponder

            I would say not. *I* haven’t even heard of it. But then I’m really not a radio listener.

  • The Masked Marvel

    Montague is an idiot. Of course Flashman isn’t of our time. That’s the whole point. What she really hates is that, apart from the overt, old-fashioned racism and sexism, Flashy/Fraser gives us quite a few cold, hard truths. And the fictional Flashman is far more honest than almost any of our “betters” today.

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      Who outside a Flashman novel uses the expression “Johnny Foreigner”? Just some of the racist bigots that inhabit these pages.

      • transponder

        And of course you are completely free of the taint of ‘racist bigotry’, aren’t you, Jack? (Hmmmmmm.)

        • Jackthesmilingblack

          I`m a victim of racism from the resident cyber stalker that has told anyone that will listen that I`m not British, but Japanese. Not once, not twice but at least 100 times. This is a form of hate speech when you really think about it. Go on, ask me why.

          • jon

            If the most frequent comment that someone chooses to make about you is your ethnicity or nationality then I would indeed regard it as possible racism.

            I have been in a minority ( lived, married and worked in different countries ) and referred to as ‘the Englishman’ in a context that I found irritating at times, it was said without malice but certainly with a little stereotyping.

            My brother inlaw once hacked me off when I did something he disaproved of “Ohh you English!” I did not care that he rebuked me it simply hacked me off that he thought I was behaving according to type.

            I like to think of myself as a unique individual and when you are labelled by your nationality it suggests that this is all people really need to know about you.

            You wrote – “Go on ask me why”

            Ok lets have it!

          • Jackthesmilingblack

            How would you diagnose these behaviors?
            An internet correspondent who over the past five years and more has told me on the blog pages of some half-a-dozen British MSM publications, including the Spectator, that I’m not British, but Japanese (occasionally Indian or Korean). I’m talking of at least 100 times without exaggeration, almost certainly because I’m a Brit living in Japan.
            If a fellow Internet correspondent criticizes Britain or the British, or significantly disagrees with him by pointing out his illogical thinking, this person reacts by assigning a different race and nationality to his antagonist. Presumably labelling another person a “foreigner” is the greatest insult he can bestow. Specifically saying that only genuine Brits should be eligible to comment in a British publication. His definition of what constitutes “British” is so narrow that
            many Caucasian Brits would fail to qualify. Must eat British food, must support a football team, must not reside abroad of own volition. It`s seriously how many Brits go along with tghis racist claptrap, albeit it in a mode diluted form. On occasion he has told me I’m a paedophile, live in an Internet cafe, and get this, guard at a Japanese WWII PoW camp. Must have been a previous existence. 
Ultra-nationalist, no question, xenophobic racist bigot sure, but my question is this: By providing him a forum thus exposing him to ridicule and abuse, doesn`t the Spectator risk exacerbating his mental health condition? And isn’t there the danger that when cyber stalking no longer satisfies, he will move on to actual stalking?
            Jack, Japan Alps

          • jon

            I would diagnose racism as a symptom of a lack of empathy, the ability to mirror and understand how someone else feels.

            In the extreme case there are technical words for this condition but you do not need to be a severe case because normal people use the concepts of groups of people to displace the concept of an individual and suppress their empathy.

            Paradoxically it is easier to attack a whole group of people than an individual because we can only mirror effectively with one person at a time. In order to feel the pain of a group you have to look at each one of them in turn as individuals, you need to see a face, see another human beings desperation or pain.

            Its a reasonable test of a person that they would not intentionally go and emotionally wound a stranger who they knew nothing about.

            The motivation for racism is usually fear, fear of losing culture, identity and so on, that is one thing but the mechanism that allows racism to take place is the ability to suppress empathy by choosing to see people as groups rather than individuals and then to go on to inflict pain.

            A racist Father cradling his two month old baby finds it harder to feel hurtful racist sentiment when he sees a father of a different colour doing exactly the same thing – only a heart of stone would not be moved by the shared and very deep emotions.

            I know I will die with the thought of my son when the nurse placed him on my chest and told me that my own body heat would be the best way to keep him warm, I think it was the most meaningful thing I have ever felt.

            Whenever I see a Father of any race with his son I see what I felt echoed across the room. I cannot see him or his son as part of an unloved group I am forced to accept him as an individual and hence his humanity and my humanity.

            Someone who cannot feel this or writes off my comments as mawkish has already sadly begun the dehumanising
            process of shutting down the mirror that enables them to see their own emotions and feelings reflected in others. The mirror is there when they see their own ‘type’ but they can selectively turn it off when they chose by the way that they think.

            The thing that pulls you back from the madness is your empathy, the ability to sense the feelings of the person you are attacking, to get some measure of the pain you are inflicting, to remember that a racist slur in the playground results in a small innocent and perhaps frightened child crying themselves to sleep.

            I have a son I never ever want to inflict that kind of pain on a small child because when I think of it I see it as my son crying and I feel a moment of pain too – I am glad to say my mirror still works.

            People who have the ability to shut down their empathy or ability to mirror repeat the poison and the slogans in their heads until it is hardwired. The doctrine is expressed in the language of groups, this race or that race and so on because it works better that way – dont say babies, mothers, sons, daughters – instead call them all by one name and never think of real human beings again.

            Empathy and imagination of course also allow us to reflect that it is only the random accident of birth that makes us who we are – I am not Japanese but I could have been. Given the random nature of it all I cannot really understand how one life could be held above another nor can I understand people who seem to take personal credit for their own supposed superior race.

          • Jackthesmilingblack

            Many thanks for the thoughtful input, jon. And there I was thinking obsessive compulsive disorder covered it.

          • George Smiley

            Translation: He thinks that you are a schizophrenic who is off his medication, and having a bit of an episode, and he doesn’t think that he understand half of your diatribe, tripe and drivel, so he was only prepared to make a very general observatory of a comment! The raw-fish-eating little-eyed lady doth protest too much, methinks!

          • girondas

            My wife frequently refers to me as “That Englishman” but she’s a Polak from Chicago, so what would she know?”

      • Kenneth O’Keeffe

        Up until about a decade ago, you’d see it in the likes of the Sun (in fact, probably right next to the “we’re thicker than the Paddies” headline!)

      • jon

        I use that expression when I am sounding off on the topic of lowlife racists, its not uncommon to use the language and phrases of your foes when you are having a rant about them.

      • girondas

        In the 19th C – just about everyone who wasn’t a johnny foreigner.

        • Jackthesmilingblack

          Which is why you need to flash to 21st century reality, giro. Everyone`s a foreigner to somebody. In fact narrow-minded, xenophobic racist bigots are foreigners to sane people.

          • girondas

            21st century is beginning to seem overated already

    • transponder

      Never saw the appeal of ‘Flashman’. Even less could I understand why my f-in-law, of all people, kept trying to sell me on the series (but not his son: did he twig something?!).

      • The Masked Marvel

        Indeed, many people have difficulty with the concept of the anti-hero. Montague’s narrow-minded statement is a classic example.

        Mind you, I nearly never read any of the Flashman Papers, as it was admittedly not easy to get past the casual attitude towards attempted rape in the first few pages of the first book. Then again, I had to remind myself what an anti-hero was, and got over it. One isn’t meant to cheer for Flashman or his attitudes, you know.

        • transponder

          Mine wasn’t a moral objection; I just wasn’t interested.

          • The Masked Marvel

            Fair enough. It does get repetitive eventually. If I were to push historical fiction on anyone, it wouldn’t be this series.

          • transponder

            No. Would you say it’s intelligently written? It struck me as the sort of thing that I was expected to find entertaining, but wouldn’t. Like jokes that expect a laugh but simply aren’t that funny.

          • The Masked Marvel

            It is generally intelligently written, yes. Hence the cold, hard truths I mentioned above. That’s perhaps its most redeeming quality. The author is able to make those observations stand out by having a scoundrel (as Flashman calls himself) voice them. As for being entertained, either one enjoys going along for the ride through various historical scenarios and meeting historical figures in preposterous fashion, or one isn’t entertained in the long run by the author’s approach. It’s down to personal taste in the end. The plot vehicles do become repetitive after a while, though.

            To bring it back on topic of the modern cad, Flashman’s racism and sexism may be rather out-moded (as they said at the BBC about the Savile era, it was a different time….), but there are plenty of people of our time who are skivers and toadies and would stab their best friend in the back without hesitation if it meant getting ahead, just like Flashy. Not to mention cheat on their wives/husbands and abuse the staff. Many of them hold political office or work in journalism. Sarah Montague apparently couldn’t get past the superficial elements to see that.

            Come to think of it, Flashman’s attitude towards women and foreigners wouldn’t have been out of place at the BBC or in government until fairly recently.

          • transponder

            Thanks for the reply.

          • Kenneth O’Keeffe

            Isn’t the main point that the papers were written at the end of his fictional life so he (a) didn’t much care what people thought and (b) was more self-aware by that stage? His approach during his life was rarely to tell the truth eg. he said he’d be nice to people “who might possibly be of use to me”. I got this from reading the first five or six pages -then flicking through some of the rest. it was fairly silly stuff. It appealed to me when I was about 17 or so, which was neither last year, nor even the year before….

          • girondas

            Flashman was always self-aware

      • girondas

        I’m with your father-in-law on Flashman. Would I like him? (your F-i-L I mean)
        There is a brilliant joke that runs through all the novels, A dramatic irony I think it is called, but correct me if I am wrong on that. Flashman knows that he is a cad and a coward (You can be one without the other) and so do we, but every other character mistakes him for a great hero, – until that is, it is too late. I think the author is telling us something.
        In one novel he really does turn into a fearless hero. He cannot understand what has happened to him, but for that one day he is more truly alive than for all the rest of his days put together. Later he learns the truth. A wily oriental woman, who he thinks he has seduced, has seen right through him and had drugged him so as to turn him into the man that she would have wanted him to be.

        • transponder

          Well, he’s dead (two years ago as of yesterday). Would you have passed a pleasant lunch with him? Certainly. Would you have wanted him as a friend? My sense is that you’re brighter than he was, more sophisticated, more aesthetically discerning.

          • girondas

            Like all men I am susceptible to flattery, and you’re no mean chick yourself Puss (my preferred name for you – do you know T.S. Elliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats?. I think you’re in there somewhere) Anyway, the parrot and I having, rather foolishly, started that second bottle of cheap white must retire whilst we still can.

          • transponder

            Ha! I do not know that book but shall look it up forthwith. To be a chick and a Puss all at the same time sounds a bit mindboggling — one surely is in danger from the other — but as my life is full of ambiguity (to say nothing of ambivalence), it suits me just fine. Regards to the parrot and the cats, the silent partners.

          • girondas

            “To be a chick and a Puss all at the same time sounds a bit mindboggling — one surely is in danger from the other ”

            I didn’t think that through did I?
            Goodnight!

          • transponder

            Goodnight! : )

          • girondas

            The Parrot advises me that clarification is in order:I use the term “chick” nostagically, not condescendingly. I hope you read it as I intended. Puss was the name you used to go under.
            Eliot is spelt with one T and “degress” is a new one on me.
            Starting exam boards – getting a tad frazzled!

            And when you heard a dining room smash
            Or up from the pantry there came a loud crash
            Or down from the library came a loud ping
            From a vase which was commonly said to be Ming
            Then the family would say: “Now which was which cat?
            It was Mungojerrie! And Rumpleteazer!”
            And there’s nothing at all to be done about that!”

          • Puss in Plimsolls

            I should breed that parrot, if I were you. I reckon *I* could do with one.

            Had a look at the Eliot book: looks very amusing. A possible future purchase.

            As you can see, Puss is also the name I’m going under now. Variety, spice, etc.

          • girondas

            Welcome back

          • Puss in Plimsolls

            Ha ha ha! Purrrr….

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    I nominate Lizzy Vaid`s slime-ball ex-boyfriend.

  • transponder

    Gentlemen don’t sport tattoos, Nigel. And they read serious books. I suspect Beckham has lots of the one and rather few of the latter.

  • Roberta Crichton

    Since a nation’s advance mostly results from the efforts of its more well off citizens, central governments that assault those citizens will naturally halt technological progress and reduce the nation’s overall quality of life.

  • Treebrain

    “Or consider Nigel Farage, another classic Flashman on account of his shamelessness.”

    Oh come on, you really are scraping the barrel now in an attempt to do Nigel Farage down!

  • The Masked Marvel

    There seems to be some confusion between the kind of scoundrel Flashman was and someone who is simply a villain, or even more simply, an @rsehole. There is a difference.

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