Everybody loves a bad boy, right? Well actually no. The response to the death of the great train robber Ronnie Biggs has made it clear that in 50 years our attitude to the ‘rebel’ has changed beyond recognition. It would appear British society has become everything we once despised and feared: sensible and conscientious.
I remember my last dalliance with the law. I was an honest fresher who had left Morrison’s with more shopping than I could carry, when, as the plastic bags began to sever my hand from my wrist, I had a wild thought. I could steal a trolley. As I began to leave the car park I could feel my heart pounding and my hands sweating; I felt sick, yet so alive. Then I saw my friend’s horrified faces. Was I insane? Would I soon be recounting this story in my memoirs from Guantanamo bay? Or worse, would some young spotty worker who desperately needed his job at Morrison’s to pay for his sick grandma’s care, lose it because he failed in his guardianship of the trolleys? Covered in cold sweat, I stopped, put the trolley back, and vowed never to reveal my sketchy past to anyone.
I am not alone in being somewhat less than impulsive; ironically it is today’s ‘YOLO’ Britain which seems incapable of escaping the knowledge of consequence. In the last few days, Ronnie Biggs has been described as ‘one of the great characters of the last 50 years’ and this sums him up accurately because he is indeed a ‘great character’ of the last fifty years. Whilst some members of the older generations will be mourning the death of the risky, loveable cockney rogue that was good old ‘Ronnie’, others are wondering why we are celebrating the life of a criminal at all. What about the consequences of his actions? The fact he was involved with a gang who beat a man with an iron bar so badly he never fully recovered is difficult to label as the actions of a rule bending, mischief making man.
It is not just that Biggs was a criminal which makes him unpopular in today’s Britain, but rather the fact he represents the carefree, selfish rebel which actually we no longer like at all. Take Mick Jagger. Yes by all means a few people may pull a Mick Jagger T-shirt over a pair of black skinny jeans and adorn their walls which posters of the ultimate bad boy, but how popular would the Rolling Stone’s star actually be today? If Harry Styles was seen snorting cocaine and having sex with everyone including his band mate’s girlfriends, it is not likely the response would be increased sales and admiration (see Tiger Woods and Kerry Katona). It is far more likely that he would be quickly shunted into some sort of rehab/hospital/asylum by a frantic PR team, and would emerge fresh faced several weeks later claiming he used drugs and sex to soothe some inner turmoil.
We no longer like rock stars because we are in an age of austerity. When everyone has to work more and work harder to earn less, the last thing we want to see is a filthy rich person living a life of excess and indulgence. The winners and runners up of shows such as The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent show us that it is the downtrodden and the unfortunate that we want to see enjoying life. If they are neither ugly, have experienced tragedy or poor then it is vital that they are super ‘nice’ and extremely hard working in order for us to like them and sustain their wealth. The press love the unrepentant benefit fraud living the high life and the Etonian disregarding the welfare of others, because they know that nothing angers the British public more than the wealthy, lazy and ungrateful. Jumping on a train therefore, whether it be gravy or actual, and taking what others have worked for, will not win you any friends in today’s Britain. Sorry Ronnie.