‘Flashman is back,’ declared the Labour leader Ed Miliband at Prime Minister’s Questions on 11 May 2011. He was referring to David Cameron and he presumably meant to imply that the Tory was a boorish, ill-mannered bully, riding roughshod over the finer feelings of his Parliamentary colleagues. But I did wonder at the time just how well-chosen Miliband’s ‘insult’ really was. Wouldn’t any male politician be secretly thrilled to be likened to Harry Paget Flashman, the fictional Victorian soldier and adventurer?
True, Flashman is a bully, a liar, a coward and a cad – not qualities our leaders would normally want ascribed to them – but, damn it, he’s a handsome fellow, square-jawed, walrus-whiskered, sword adangling beside a thrust-out pelvis encased in the finest breeches since Colin Firth made the ladies faint as Darcy. Wearing the self-satisfied grin of a man who’s just spent the night with a grateful virgin or two . . . what man wouldn’t want to be Flashman?
For here’s another thing about Flashy: he’s a quite phenomenal babe-magnet. In the pages of fiction only Don Juan and James Bond can match Flashman’s prodigious sexual success. From prostitutes to princesses, Harry’s had ’em all. He’s rutted with Calcuttan dancing-girls and squired Native American squaws; been ravished by Ranavalona I, the savage queen of Madagascar; seduced Lillie Langtry, the celebrated actress and mistress of Edward VII; and run through most of the Kama Sutra with Jind Kaur, the Maharani of Punjab. He once noted that his favourite lovers were Lakshmi Bai, Rani of Jhansi, the Chinese Dowager Empress Cixi, and Lola Montez, the latter ‘a Queen, an Empress, and the foremost courtesan of her time’. Halfway through his life he counted up 478 conquests. He was married, too.
In fairness, perhaps Miliband was referring to the Flashman of Tom Brown’s Schooldays, the insufferably preachy work by Thomas Hughes in
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