It’s time to delve into your history books, Mr Cleese, says DOMINIC MIDGELY

It’s time to delve into your history books, Mr Cleese, says DOMINIC MIDGELY

In the centuries between then and now the capital has changed hands numerous times, as first the saxons, then the Vikings and ultimately the Normans barged in and commandeered the levers of power.

Each occupying army left its stamp on the city and when you factor in hundreds of years of immigration, notably the arrival of up to 50,000 huguenots – French Protestants fleeing persecution across the Channel in the 17th century – and the rich mix of ethnicities and cultures brought on by the legacy of empire in the 19th and 20th centuries, you have a society that has thrived on being a melting pot.

Which is why John Cleese sounds as if he is channelling his alter ego Basil Fawlty when he protests that London is “not really an English city any more”.

In a tweet presumably posted from his new home on the Caribbean island of Nevis, Cleese, 79, said: “some years ago I opined that London was not really an English city any more. since then virtually all my friends from abroad have confirmed my observation. so there must be some truth in it.”

The figures appear to bear him out. In 2017 nearly 1.5 million foreign-born people were living in inner London and nearly 1.9 million in outer London.

Manifestations of this cosmopolitan brew are very visible on the high streets of inner London, which boast every- thing from Ethiopian restaurants and Polish supermarkets when Julius Caesar anchored his feet off the south Coast at what is now deal in 55BC, Britain was a land to Greek bakeries and French bookshops.

Muslims have no trouble locating halal butchers and there are plenty of kosher sup- pliers for the Jewish community.

But the point the former Python misses is that it was ever thus.

Each wave of conquest and immigration made its own contribution to the development of a city whose financial might and creative buzz make it arguably the greatest city in the world today.

It all started with the Romans, of course, and no one is more aware of their contribution than Cleese.

In the Monty Python team’s biblical epic life Of Brian, it was the king of silly walks who – in his role as a leading member of malcontents the People’s Front of Judea – asked the question, “What have the Romans ever done for us?”

After a pause, someone pipes up “aqueducts”.

Then comes “sanitation”, “roads”, “irrigation”, “medicine”, “education” and so on.

Immigration to London continued unchecked for 1,000 years after Constantine III left Britain in 410Ad for the simple reason that no record was kept of incoming foreigners.

It has not all been plain sailing.

In the mid-14th century, for example, immigrants from Flanders had a particularly high profile in England.

They had come over in quite significant numbers as agricultural labourers, skilled cloth weavers, and import-export merchants.

Towards the end of the century, however, the economic success of Flemish communities in London and other English towns made them the butt of violent reprisals during the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381.

By this time an immigrant of good standing in London could renounce allegiance to their

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