This month the Union Flag celebrated its 400th anniversary. Here, one of the region’s most vocal patriots, the self-styled John Bull, explains why he hopes it’s around for another 400 years…

To me, the Union Flag is a symbol of a country that is the envy of the world.

It is a celebration of our great land of hope and glory, of the freedom, history and great traditions that stem from this great British democracy we enjoy.

A celebration of our nation’s multi-culturalism, racial tolerance, steadfastness and defiance that sends the message to never take kindness for weakness for when push comes to shove we will fight them on the beaches.

The Union Flag (or Jack as some people call) is a rallying point for all.

I was born in Liverpool, which makes me English, but I prefer to be called British. The Union Flag to me has far more impact and meaning especially when you think of the people who have laid down their lives for it.

Yes, the flag of St George is the English flag but then again St George was not an Englishman. As a serving police officer I became drawn towards the Union Flag in 1977, the year of the Silver Jubilee.

Based at Ladywood police station and looking forward to flying the flag for the Jubilee I found that the police station, a public building, had been built without a flagpole. Representations and reports were submitted and eventually a flagpole arrived in time for the celebrations.

When the time came I was given the task to be the first person to hoist the flag which was the first time I had ever performed that task.

The flag was eventually hoisted but I happened to make a mistake tying the ropes and consequently when the time came to take it down the knot on the rope got stuck on the pulley and the flag stayed put.

In the end we had to summon the nearby fire brigade to get the flag down. Following that episode the Union Flag became a very personal thing to me so much so that whenever I see it flying I just can’t take my eyes off it.

There are currently three places locally that I always look for the flag flying:

  1. All Electric Garages in Harborne
  2. Richardson Brothers, Oldbury
  3. Keltruck, West Bromwich

They should be congratulated for doing so.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer the Rt Hon Gordon Brown suggested recently that people should fly the Union Flag in their gardens. A good idea indeed but through patriotism I guess he may have been looking for a few political brownie points on his quest for the premiership.

In my opinion the Government ought to supply every manufacturing base in this country with a Union Flag. It shouldn’t cost them too much as our manufacturing industries are declining at an alarming rate. I also believe that any product made in Great Britain should stipulate that fact and carry upon it a Union Flag as it used to.

Whenever I see the Union Flag flying at sporting celebrations it never ceases to bring a lump to my throat. I look at it as a matter of patriotism and nationalistic pride.

In 1990 having spent an apprenticeship in agriculture I became involved with the Hereford Cattle Society, a world famous native British beef breed. It was at the West Midlands Agriculture Show that I was asked my opinion as to how the breed could promote its image further. It was then I suggested that they fly more Union Flags and give the breed a John Bull image.

It was that statement that changed the course of my life. I volunteered to take on the role and for better or for worse it is a role that I take great pride in promoting. When I don the Union Flag waistcoat I am always conscious of the respect it must be given in view of the millions of people who have laid down their lives over the centuries for Queen and country.

As John Bull and being the official mascot of the Hereford Cattle Society it is my role to lead the breed into the grand parades at the top agriculture shows in Great Britain.

When the MG Rover crisis erupted I decided to take part in that memorable march from the city centre to Cannon Hill Park in 2000 in an attempt to save jobs. I devised a lollipop placard surrounded by an array of Union Flags which contained the words “Save The Rover, Save British Jobs”. It was to become a symbol that was beamed all over the world many times.

Since the crisis five years ago I have been on many protests far too numerous to mention but throughout them all the array of Union Flags have surrounded my placard and still do to this day.

In all the places I have been I have generally been well received. Yes, I have been called a little Englander on occasions but that has never bothered me because I at least gain the satisfaction of knowing that I have been recognised.

The only ugly incident during my 15 years in the John Bull role occurred about four years ago on Llangollen, North Wales, at the venue of the international Eisteddfod.

Their local Member of Parliament wanted to introduce the euro to Llangollen during the duration of the festival and I opposed the euro in a protest outside the Bank of England in London 12 months prior.

In opposition to the euro I went to Llangollen with my ‘Keep The Pound’ placard as I was standing on the bridge over the River Dee I was approached by a well-built angry-looking Welshman.

He looked at me and with a threatening tone in his voice “Hey you have got a bloody nerve coming here dressed like that!” I did no more than spin my placard round whereby the message of “Keep The Pound” was written in Welsh together with the Welsh flag. I then proceeded to carry out a conversation with him in Welsh, rendering him speechless.

He turned around and walked away muttering Welsh obscenities to himself especially when I had told him that I had lived in Caernarvon, North Wales for ten years and could speak Welsh fluently – that was one up for the Union Flag that day.

The event I always look forward to is the state opening of Parliament. I just love the pomp and ceremony that goes with it a typically British event, in fact the whole of Westminster oozes Britishness. There is always a Union Flag to be found flying around there and I just love being a part of it.

In the last 15 years flying the Union Flag and as John Bull I have met many interesting people and been to many interesting places. I have been well received throughout even by all the ethnic minority groups.

There are many more things to do, God willing.

However, when I do depart from this world I will want a Union Flag draped over my coffin with a horse drawn hearse with red, white and blue plumes and etched on my headstone I will want a Union Flag together with the words “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country. God Save The Queen.”

Ray Egan (aka John Bull)

Andrew Bentley, MInst SMM
General Manager – Marketing & Business Development