Brilliantly British: Our writers on the best of British that mean the most to them

We will use your email address only for sending you newsletters. Please see our Privacy Notice for details of your data protection rights.

CAROLE MALONE For me, one of the best British inventions of all time is the good old sandwich. No day is complete unless at some point I stop whatever it is I’m doing to have a sandwich and a cup of tea. Even if I’m on a diet, I’ll factor in the calories for a sarnie. Which is how I’m such an expert on the calorie count of all Waitrose’s sandwiches (my favourite is salt beef, mustard and pickle) and Marks & Spencer’s (cheese savoury on brown).

Yes, I love those cafes and coffee shops that do “continental” sandwiches – panini, French bread, brioche, sourdough.

But the truth is, I much prefer good old thick-sliced British bread.

The person responsible for this clever, life-changing innovation was John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich in 1762.

The story goes that Sandwich, a compulsive gambler, was so hooked on his card game that one night he didn’t want to leave the gaming table to eat.

Instead he asked for roast beef to be placed between two slices of bread so that he could eat it with his hands.

The idea caught on and others began to “order the same as Sandwich”. The rest, as they say, is history.

Now the world-beating British sandwich industry is worth £8billion a year, which is incredible considering Marks and Spencer’s was the first store to start selling them in 1980.

But more importantly, the sandwich has become an integral part not just of British cuisine but British tradition.

It’s freed us from the tyranny of the knife, fork and the dining table.

It allows us to walk, read, take the bus, work at our computers while we eat.

No British picnic, no garden party, no afternoon tea, no cricket match would be complete without sandwiches.

Something so simple, yet so homely and satisfying, has become part of the fabric of British life.

And despite all the exotic food influences that have flooded into Britain in recent years (and thank God for them), guess what the nation’s favourite sandwich still is – a bacon butty.

Just writing those words makes me want to go and make one?

ANN WIDDECOMBE In 1902 a small factory in Burton-on-Trent began to make Marmite and it still does.

Who but the British could make a spread so distinctive that it has given its name to any sharp like or dislike, as in a Marmite politician?

And I should know.

The Australians tried, producing vegemite in 1922.

Indeed, it was in Australia that I tried it for the first and last time. Eeeeerrrrgh!

On a trip to Hawaii, I came upon a shop selling old-fashioned games and bought a set of jacks for my great nephews.

That evening I idly looked at the label and found they were made less than five miles away from my home on Dartmoor!

I should have guessed: no other nation does nostalgia as well as the Brits (that’s why we are so good at pageantry).

The pantomime season, that uniquely British entertainment which foreign visitors find so baffling, would normally get going about now.

We export Marmite and games but not pantomime.

Why on earth not?

“They wouldn’t get it,” one impresario told me.

Cornish brie or French brie?

Cornish every time.

The French and Italians may turn their noses up at British food but who gave the world pasties and sandwiches?

Vive la Grande-Bretagne! Vive Brexit!

VANESSA FELTZ Okay. This isn’t difficult.

Wake up.

Yawn.

Stretch.

Lurch into the kitchen and treat yourself to the jewel in our culinary crown – the Full English Breakfast.

Do it properly.

Don’t skimp on the golden creaminess of the butter, the quality of the egg, the pedigree of the bacon, the piquancy of the black pudding or the indigenous inventiveness of the sausage.

Make sure every morsel has been born, raised, grazed and harvested on British soil.

Ensure the tomatoes are local.

Don’t dream of your fried slice hailing from anywhere South of Dover.

Plenty of ketchup and brown sauce should be to hand too.

Serve on fine British china.

A plate by Emma Bridgewater or Josiah Wedgwood ensures every bite you ferry mouthwards is redolent of our green and pleasant land.

Lay a snowy linen cloth carefully crafted in the British Isles.

Wash down your royal repast with lashings of Yorkshire Tea.

Pour pearly white full fat milk courtesy of cattle lowing as close to your house as humanly possible, delivered with a jaunty wave by your friendly milkman from a Bertie Wooster-esque china cow creamer.

Then crack open Dickens’ Great Expectations and the window to the orchestra of bird song and tuck in.

RICHARD MADELEY My first real appreciation of a specifically British product was when my grandfather gave me, on my 12th birthday, the most sensational present of my childhood.

I was staying with my grandparents on their Shropshire farm.

The morning of my birthday I woke to find a long box wrapped in brown paper leaning against the bedroom wall by the window.

I had no idea what was inside.

 But the box was very heavy.

I soon had it open.

There, lying in padded cardboard moulding, fragrant with three-in-one oil, was an air rifle.

My first airgun.

This was no fairground knockabout.

The stock was beautifully finished in smooth walnut; the trigger, guard, chamber and barrel made of blued steel.

Everything was precision-finished; the barrel clicked satisfyingly into place when snickered shut and the safety-catch closed with a gentle, reassuring snap.

It was a Webley & Scott, the British gun manufacturer that opened for business more than two centuries ago in 1790.

Providers to Army officers of the famous Webley service revolver.

Purveyor of shotguns to royalty.

And now, makers of my .22 calibre airgun.

There was a little booklet at the bottom of the box describing Webley & Scott’s history, and I realised I was now a tiny part of the firm’s long story.

I’ve had other airguns since – including one made by the firm’s German rival, Weihrauch – but nothing has surpassed my first encounter with a Webley.

Fifty years on, I’ve still got it.

Unlike every other make of airgun I’ve ever owned, it’s never let me down.

Thanks, Grandad.

FREDERICK FORSYTH Look here, said the editor, we need an example of British craftsmanship that can rate as the best in the world, if not the best ever.

Well, one is a bit spoilt for choice.

I mean, it was not the Bulgarians who developed and flew the Spitfire or the Russians who created the Rolls-Royce Nene jet engine in l947.

It was the British who foolishly gave them the Nene, from which they created the power units of the MiGs that outperformed our American allies in Korea.

But from the whole gamut of British excellence I would choose our furniture designers, Sheraton, Chippendale and Hepplewhite whose tradition of superlative furniture continues to this day.

You can keep your flat packs, plastics and tin plates, glass and chrome.

Our giants relied on the finest timbers – ash, elm, oak, teak and mahogany.

And you can keep your fragile ormulus.

Our stuff is robust yet stylish, lasting but elegant, artistic but comfortable, plain or upholstered.

These works of the master craftsmen can be seen in our castles, stately homes and manors, just as they were created.

They are indestructible, like the country they came from.

VIRGINIA BLACKBURN Twenty years ago I gave up smoking and promised myself that if I lasted a month I would reward myself with a Paul Smith dress.

I did and said dress turned up in my wardrobe, establishing a love of designer clothing that lasts to this day.

It cost £450 (this was in 2000) and so I became the one and only person ever in the history of giving up fags to end up spending more money, not less.

But it was worth it.

Paul Smith is a British designer and an example of the superb British contribution to fashion.

Yes, the French and Italians are pretty good at it but Coco Chanel drew inspiration from the country house look (she adored the British aristocracy), and the quality of tailoring in Jermyn Street is unmatched anywhere in the globe.

In my youth I had a Saturday job at Burberry; people came from all over the world to buy one of those trench coats.

I’ve continued to treat myself.

One of my favourite outfits is a Vivienne Westwood suit bought years ago, but quality lasts and it has always attracted favourable comment.

Oh, and the first couturier was Charles Worth.

He worked in Paris, but guess where he was born?

Good old Blighty.

Enough said.

Source: Read Full Article