By George! Isn’t it time we recognised our patron saint?

Did you miss it, then? Chances are that, if you blinked, you would have. I am, of course, referring to St. George’s Day.

You know – flags with the red cross on a white background, that sort of thing.

I was up early and drove 67 miles during a day which didn’t finish until after 10pm.

Granted, I didn’t pass any civic buildings, but other than my own cufflinks, I clocked only one ragged emblem of St. George clipped to a white van on the A500 – along with the flag fluttering half-heartedly in the breeze above Sentinel Towers.

This sense of apathy makes me incredibly sad.

On St. Patrick’s Day you can’t walk down the street without being accosted by some halfwit wearing a leprechaun’s outfit staggering from an Irish-themed bar and claiming pseudo-Irish ancestry.

So why oh why are we so poor at celebrating the day of our own patron saint?

I know that the patronage of St. George isn’t the exclusive preserve of the English and that stories of the life and exploits of the said individual are many and varied. Dragons don’t exist either, apparently.

But does it really matter? The point is the national emblem of the English, along with the three lions, is the flag of St George. Why then are we so reticent to wave it about and celebrate our own heritage?

Let me give you an example. A bloke contacted The Sentinel on Thursday to say he had gone into a North Staffordshire pub on St. George’s Day dressed up as the mythic dragon slayer – only to be turfed out by bar staff who were afraid he may offend some of their customers.

Pardon? How, pray tell would he have offended them? Do some of their punters have an aversion to chain mail? Was it his plastic longsword?

Unfortunately, the reader asked us not to publish the story after his mate intervened and pub staff did a swift U-turn (having presumably realised they had overreacted just a tad).

This is exactly the kind of political correctness masquerading as multiculturalism which shames us all.

Stoke-on-Trent is strange place.

On the one hand it is a city with a proud history of tolerance. A city which has welcomed, and continues to welcome, people from different ethnic backgrounds from all over the world.

Examples include exiled Poles during the war and doctors from the sub-continent during the 1960s who went on to form the backbone of family medicine in the Potteries for generations.

We are also a city with several democratically-elected councillors belonging to the far right British National Party – which, in the eyes of Whitehall, is the equivalent of having leprosy.

Of course, the BNP isn’t slow to wave the red and white flag, which makes everyone else rather jittery.

This is presumably why we are forever apologising for our colonial past and falling over ourselves not to offend all and sundry while neglecting our own proud culture and traditions.

Forget my politics – I am very patriotic. If England were playing Ecuador in the final of the World Indoor Tiddlywinks Championship I’d probably watch it. Or at least set the DVD player for record.

You see, the flag of St. George doesn’t belong to the BNP or the Tories, Labour or the Lib Dems.
It’s mine… and it’s yours whenever you want it.

If you fancy dressing up in medieval garb and having a couple of glasses of your favourite tipple while toasting the health of Her Majesty and England’s cricket team ahead of The Ashes then you should be able to do just that – without fear of recriminations.

I mention sport because it brings people together like few other mediums can. When England play a football match it is as if our fears of being labelled extremists suddenly evaporate.

If Andrew Strauss has toppled the Aussies by August 24 then suddenly everyone will be a cricket fan and you won’t be able to move for red and white flags.

Poor old St. George deserves better than this. His emblem shouldn’t just be dusted off for major sporting occasions.

If our Glasgow-born Prime Minister wants to cheer up the majority of the electorate amid all the doom and gloom, then he could do far worse than making April 23 a national holiday in England – never mind what the captains of industry think.

At a time when we are all supposed to be pulling in the same direction, a time of unprecedented hardships, what better way than coming together as a nation once a year to celebrate whatever it is that Englishness means to each and every one of us?

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel


Panto star Wilkesy has had his day? Oh no he hasn’t…

It’s A straightforward question: Do you want Jonathan Wilkes back again this Christmas at the Regent Theatre?

‘Oh no we don’t!’ cry a vocal minority. ‘Oh yes we do’, answer his legion of fans.

And so the debate rumbles on in The Sentinel’s letters pages.

As we struggle to get to grips with the worst recession since the ’30s, I suppose who stars in this year’s premier Potteries pantomime is hardly a pressing issue.

Then again, you’d be surprised how exercised people can become when threatened with the Chuckle Brothers or Joe Pasquale.

This will be Wilkesy’s fifth year taking the starring role at the Hanley venue.

Critics say they’ve had enough of Baddeley Green’s finest and they want, nay deserve, a change.

They claim his local-boy ‘Ay up, me ducks’ is wearing thin and point to other cities where the cast is fresh every year and a new headliner attracts first-time theatregoers.

Well, even if I didn’t know the bloke, people would have a hard time convincing me that his star is waning just yet.

We could go round in circles debating the quality of the pantos. (I think last year’s was Wilkesy’s best to date.)

However, the facts speak for themselves. The 2008 production of Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs broke box office records for a Regent panto for the fourth year running.

And isn’t that, ultimately, what it’s all about? Yep… bums on seats.

If the Ambassador Theatre Group which runs the Regent thought for a second that Wilkesy couldn’t bring home the bacon, don’t you think he’d be looking for work elsewhere over the festive season?

Of course, the Regent isn’t alone in having a star return year after year.

Other examples include Gerard Kelly in Glasgow, Billy Pearce in Wolverhampton and John Barrowman in Birmingham.

It is also interesting to note that when the Regent surveyed 100 random pantomime ticket buyers this year, none of them said they wanted rid of Wilkesy.

It seems that here in the Potteries, the punters keep on coming because they love the star turn and are happy with the parochial nature of much of the comedy.

I think they have learned to appreciate the huge amount of work and the incredible attention to detail which gears each production to the local audience.

Presumably they also love the use of upcoming talent in the form of local youngsters who take on the roles of dancers, etc.

Certainly, the warm reception afforded to the winner of the inaugural Stoke’s Top Talent competition (Daniel Hewitt), who went on to star alongside Wilkesy for three months, underlined the appetite for home-grown performers.

Indeed, I think the unique selling point of the Regent’s panto is that it is, perhaps more than any other festive theatre show in the UK, tailored to its audience and brimming with talent from North Staffordshire.

Sure, you still get the fantastic costumes, the slapstick humour and the singalongs, but we also get video messages from the likes of Robbie Williams (the genie of the lamp), or a magic mirror voiced by Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor.

If we didn’t have Wilkesy, we could, of course, have a big name from soap land to head the cast.

But, hang on a minute… we had Corrie’s Shobna Gulati in 2007 and the lovely Claire Sweeney last year.

So, for my money, we are getting the best of both worlds.

In short, I’m not really sure what the detractors are bleating on about.

More to the point, they can boo and hiss all they like – Wilkesy will still be compering Stoke’s Top Talent in September and stepping into Dick Whittington’s well-worn boots this Christmas.

And, as far as I’m concerned, that’s no bad thing.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Tuesday in The Sentinel