Friday, April 03, 2009

They call me Mr Tibbs

I don't read the Daily Mail. Honest. Never. However, the Today programme has drawn my attention to an article by Guy Walters about how you address people and the growth of informality. I share Mr Walters' resentment when strangers, sales people in particular, call me David. I have tried responding, "Do I know you ?". In writing I often resort to the old Quaker habit of using both names, which is about showing respect to everyone equally. Sidney Poitier's character Virgil Tibbs insisted on Mr when the southern cops called him boy. Richard Crossman noted in his diary how his colleagues treated each other with greater respect and calmness in cabinet than when they met in the Labour Party's national executive. He attributed the different behaviour to different modes of address. In cabinet, titles - Prime Minister, Chancellor, Foreign Secretary ; in the NEC, first names - Harold, Jim, George. Of course, Mr Blair removed this distinction when first names made their appearance in cabinet, a clue to his evident disregard of cabinet government.

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