Adam Edwards: The poppy poseurs

The poppy is our national symbol of remembrance.The wearing of it, however is a voluntary act © Serg

The poppy is our national symbol of remembrance.The wearing of it, however is a voluntary act © Sergii Vortit - Credit: Archant

Does the BBC send out a memo dictating on what date the Remembrance poppy must be worn by all who appear on our screens?

I am not ‘army’. It is true that at school I was a reluctant squaddie in the Combined Cadet Force (CCF) but my lack of aptitude for all things military meant I was swiftly transferred to the CCF band and thence, when my ineptitude with the drumsticks was as plain as the blanco on my boots, back into mufti.

It is also true that some distant members of my family sported uniforms but I never met them. In fact as a child growing up in North London my only regular encounter with any form of militia came from the pocket-sized War Picture Library comics that I read under my school desk.

It was not until I moved to the Cotswolds that I came across soldiers or rather ex-soldiers. Our hills are alive with former servicemen, who can be easily identified by their polished deck shoes and practical wristwatches. To my surprise I generally enjoy their company. I like their jokes, their trenchant views and their penchant for a drink. Some of them have become my close friends.

I mention this because among other things they have given me a new respect for the army, what it achieves and has achieved, and in particular for its many sacrifices. And so I wear a poppy in November.

As a rule I eschew all charity lapel badges, slogan-shouting T-shirts and trite car stickers (although my motor did briefly sport the bumper sticker ‘Drop-kick me Jesus through the goalposts of life’). I particularly dislike Red Nose-day pins, mysterious ribbons and enamel tokens, and the more I see others wearing them the more determined I am not to do so partly because, it seems to me, that it is little more than a cheesy way of publicly showing off one’s caring, sharing side. But the poppy, even with its nasty green plastic leaf attached, is different. It is our national symbol of remembrance; a way of showing both our respect for The Fallen and how they have helped keep our nation safe.

The wearing of it, however, is a voluntary act. It seems perfectly reasonable, for example that a pacifist or a conscientious objector would not wish to wear one. But today, in the 21st century, there appears to be no excuses for failing to flourish the red roundel. Last year, for example, the actress Sienna Miller didn’t wear one when she appeared on the Graham Norton Show. She had in fact bought a poppy but didn’t pin it on because it pinched the fabric of her dress. She also might justifiably have said that the damned thing just fell off, had been left on a change of clothes, eaten by the dog or consumed in the wash. But that did not stop the Twitter storm that followed that included tweets such as “why was she allowed on the show?” and “disrespectful cow”.

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The reason I suspect for this abuse is because broadcasters now insist that their staff all wear one. This is particularly true of the BBC. Every single newsreader, weather forecaster, presenter and celebrity guest must have a perfectly placed poppy draped on their left breast. I assume the broadcaster sends a memo to its many make-up departments insisting that the thing must be attached from a particular day. (It would be interesting to know how many of those appearing on our screens have actually shelled out for their symbol.) Equally irritating is that the day chosen is several weeks before November 11. As the Times noted last year, “Like Christmas, poppy-wearing seems to get earlier every year. It won’t be long before TV presenters are attacked for failing to wear one in August.”

Because everybody in the public eye must now boast the decoration for weeks on end it is rapidly becoming meaningless (just as Christmas has lost its meaning as a Christian festival). The wearing of it has more to do with political correctness than remembrance. The next logical step is that we will be rebuked for failing to wear a pink ribbon during Breast Cancer Awareness month, or an Aids brooch on World Aids Day or a Save The Donkey pin badge during Starving Donkey Week.

My teenage army career may have been more Carry On Squaddie than `By the right, quick march’, but I shall still wear a poppy this year, for a couple of days before and on Remembrance Sunday.

Next year, however, I will instead put my money in the collecting box and then drink a toast to The Fallen with my Cotswold army chums.

For more from Adam Edwards, follow him on Twitter @cotswoldhack