Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

So, what really is the mark of a modern gentleman?

After a magazine came up with a new list of what defines a true gent in the 21st century, writer Alex Kane begs to differ while Kerry McKittrick asks six Northern Ireland women how they think a man should behave today

Right move: Richard Gere and Debra Winger in An Officer And A Gentleman
Right move: Richard Gere and Debra Winger in An Officer And A Gentleman

Everyone has their own idea of the perfect gentleman. For some he will be impeccably groomed with perfect table manners. For others he will make sure the needs of any lady are met before considering his own.

Perhaps he will be the man to send a thank-you note for every present and ensure all of his elderly relatives are taken care of. Posh magazine Country Life has decided to provide a list of all things gentlemanly to celebrate their new Gentleman Of The Year award.

It asked journalists, actors, authors and other notable people to give their definitions of a gentleman in order to compile the ultimate list.

And the list that luminaries such as Jeremy Paxman, actor Richard E Grant and novelist Jilly Cooper have helped compile has certainly raised quite a few eyebrows.

For example, the 21st century gentleman is always on time and makes love on his elbows.

But he must not own a cat and must never use Twitter.

We spoke to six Northern Ireland woman to find out what their idea of a gentleman is.

ALEX KANE: 'I'M HAPPY WITH WHO I AM; NEITHER SAINT NOR SCHOLAR'

“I think it was the late Conservative MP Alan Clarke who, in his diary, suggested that Michael Heseltine wasn't really a gentleman because “he bought his own furniture”. Jeremy Paxman takes the view that a “gentleman doesn't dispense unsolicited advice,” although he seems happy enough to dispense patronising tosh when solicited to do so by Country Life.

And Jilly Cooper argues that a gentleman “wouldn't jump on you without asking and wouldn't jump off buses without paying”: which got me wondering if she made a habit of making love to casual strangers on public transport?

Mind you, she also thinks he should “drive you home after he's been to bed with you”. I'm clearly not a gentleman, because I'm happy enough to roll over, straighten up the electric blanket again and then listen to a Sherlock Holmes story on the iPad. If I was pushed to offer a definition of a ‘gentleman’, I would start with the condition that it wouldn't include anyone who feels the need to read Country Life to find out what a gentleman should or shouldn't do.

Indeed, anyone who reads any list anywhere to find out how they should or shouldn't behave wouldn't even fit into my definition of ‘normal’. I have a very simple take on life: I take people as I find them and I don't give a toss if they wear brown shoes after dark or drink Pimm's during the winter months.

The sort of people who care about defining and categorising themselves and others are the sort of people who think themselves terribly important. They are the sort of people who invent rules of behaviour in order that they can aggrandise themselves and separate themselves from the ‘oiks’. They are the sort of people who keep unread ‘must read’ books on their coffee tables and use a well-brushed Harrods bag to bring Tesco-bought champagne to dinner parties. Apostrophes matter to them, but only because Lynne Truss has told them that they matter and inadvertently provided them with the opportunity to point out the ‘ignorance’ of shopkeepers and farmers.

My father was a gentleman: a decent, honest, hardworking, caring, loving, thoughtful, self-educated, gentle man. He was as at ease with drain diggers (he worked for the Department of Agriculture) as he was with Sir Norman Stronge (a close friend and former Stormont Speaker, for whom he acted as election agent for years.)

He was involved with the Unionist Party and the Orange Order and was Clerk of Session for his local Presbyterian church. He knew hundreds of people from all walks of life and treated them all with the same respect. He listened without prejudice, he considered without prejudice and he acted without prejudice. Actually, that's it right there, my definition of a gentleman — and I didn't even need to buy a copy of Debrett's or Country Life!

So, why do we still have this nonsense? How does owning a cat prevent you from being considered a gentleman; or using a Biro rather than a fountain pen; or Tweeting rather than sending a letter; or wearing a pre-tied bow tie?

Or, most bizarre of all, why are gentlemen expected to make love on their elbows (try that on a water bed: not that I either own a water bed or regard myself as a gentleman)?

 To be honest, I'd be more interested in knowing why so many self-styled ‘gentlemen’ think it's acceptable to pack their children off to boarding school and summer pony camps rather than have them around the house? Maybe they don't want them tripping over the piles of Country Life.

Anyway, I'm happy to be who I am. Neither saint nor scholar: nor even a ‘gentleman’. I don't need a list on etiquette compiled by the sort of people who recognise nothing more important than themselves. I'm the sort of gentleman who is happy not to be their sort of ‘gentleman’.”

Follow Alex Kane on Twitter:|@AlexKane221b

 

AND WHAT DO THE LADIES THINK?

 

NIAMH PERRY (23) is a West End singer and actress from Bangor. She is currently starring in the musical The Beautiful Game. She says:

My boyfriend, Matthew Weir, is a gentleman. It's all about the little things such as opening doors, being respectful and generally looking after you. We live in London and when we're out on the street he's very aware of drunks or dodgy people when I'm with him.

Those Gentleman's Commandments from Country Life are so old-fashioned and I don't live by them. If Matt wants to have a cat then he can have one. Perhaps as a youngish person from Northern Ireland I think that list is really dated.

People should be able to choose what they want to drink, dress how they want to dress and say what they want to say without being criticised. Being a gentleman is about manners and how a man treats other people.”

Brenda Shankey (42), runs Jason Shankey Male Grooming with her husband Jason. They live in Belfast with their children, Lauren (12) and Will (10). She says:

In this modern age a gentleman should be chivalrous. I still like it when a man holds open a door and pulls out a chair to let a lady sit down first. Jason does that — it's one of the little things that I like that I'm trying to instil in my son.

I also like it when men carry shopping bags for ladies.

Gentlemen should be smartly dressed — no football outfits or trainers. You can be trendy and smart just by wearing a nice jacket over a T-shirt with a pair of trousers.

Manners and putting people at ease are definitely part of being a true gentleman and you should certainly not be drunken and unruly.

I certainly don't agree with the edict by Country Life that gentlemen shouldn’t plant gladioli. Gardening is a nice pastime and Jason does it to chill out.

A lot of these are skills that everyone should be able to learn, not just men.

 

DOLORES KELLY (54) is the SDLP MLA for Upper Bann where she lives with her husband Eamon and their four children. She says:

A gentleman is kind and considerate and does his share of looking after children. You see men out and about now with buggies and children by themselves and it shows how they are taking responsibility for the family and giving their partners some time to themselves.

It's also important for a gentleman not to criticise his partner in front of others.

It's still gentlemanly to open doors — up at Stormont I do get male MLAs opening doors or letting me out of the lift first. It's just manners.

I've been with my husband since I was 17, but back in the days when I was courting a boyfriend was expected to pay your way into the dance — it was the gentlemanly thing to do.

There are a few things in the Country Life list that I agree with — like arriving on time, putting everyone at ease and not being disorderly. I think it's all about being mindful of others and not trying to be smart or show off.”

 

EMMA-LOUISE JOHNSTON (36) is a presenter and broadcaster. She lives in Belfast with her husband Johnathan and their children, Emily (3) and JJ (1). She says:

I've always thought of my dad and my brothers as gentlemen. I love manners and chivalry — traditional things like opening a door for a lady or standing when she leaves the table. I don't think liking those gestures contradicts my feminist values whatsoever. I'm pretty capable but a man offering to help carry something is a gesture that shows respect.

I didn't think of my husband as a gentleman, but he does actually conform to that list in Country Life. He would never think of helping me with shopping or opening a door but I think it's because he knows how capable I am and that I don't need help. On the other hand he does make sure people feel at ease and is always thoughtful.

The Country Life list isn't what I thought it would be but I think that by definition Johnathan could be a called a gentleman. Those are all pretty decent things that you would want in a man — although he does write with ballpoint pens!”

 

EMMA FITZPATRICK (35) is a DJ for Cool FM and lives in Belfast. She says:

I do like general chivalry, like when guys pull your chair out for you at dinner. Men who do that are a dying breed — for example, there have been times I've been floored by guys trying to get into the lift before me.

I recently dated a guy who did all those gentlemanly things, though. He would open the car door and hold it for me before going round to his side. He pulled out chairs for me and if we went to a bar he would make sure I had a seat and was comfortable before going to get me a drink.

I would never expect anyone to pay for me but even the offer was lovely. When we walked down the road he always made sure he was on the outside. Needless to say, I would have kept that one if he hadn't finished with me! It was certainly something I noticed — it seems to be well brought up people who do it.

Certain things on the list do strike me, although I doubt I would go out with someone who wore a bow tie, I do understand that it implies make sure things are done properly. For me the mark of a true gentleman is good manners.”

DIANE DODDS (55) is a DUP MEP. She lives in Belfast with her husband Nigel and their two children. She says:

The most gentlemanly person I ever knew was my old English master at Banbridge Academy, Mr Knight. He addressed all the boys by their surnames, and the girls too — but with ‘Miss’ at the beginning. He was unfailingly polite and taught in his black gown.

He was caring and interested and actually kept in touch for years after I left school.

It was his sheer politeness and charm that really stood out for me.

I work in the European Parliament which has 766 MEPs from 28 different countries.

You see a lot of variations of behaviour and it doesn't necessarily go by country. But I do think we compare well in Northern Ireland. The list of Gentleman's Commandments from Country Life sounds like it’s been drawn up by the polo set.

Having said that, there's nothing wrong with being respectful, polite and on time in every day life.”

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