The Vulgarian Invasions
Andrew Stevens interviews Gustav Temple of The Chap magazine for 3:AM.
3:AM: How did all of this start then?
GT: The idea for The Chap came out of various conversations with like-minded friends that there was no magazine aimed at gentlemen. Everything was either for vulgarians — FHM, Loaded et al — for students — Viz, Mad, the Beano — or for the specialist hobby — Classic Car, Razzle etc.
So I thought, let’s start a magazine that offers advice on personal grooming, elegance and modern manners which isn’t beholden to advertisers and which is light-hearted yet firm in its stance against vulgarity. This was in 1999. At the time there were only two writers doing everything. I now do everything else, but most of the writing is by contributors who have gravitated towards The Chap over the years. The Chap was never meant to be dictatorial or didactic — the readers we reached were already thinking along ‘Chappish’ lines, we simply came along and gave it a name.
3:AM: Isn’t The Idler something of a gentlemanly concern?
GT: They have had their gentlemanly moments, but essentially I think their appeal is more to the ‘slacker’ element. They have shown much more enthusiasm for contemporary culture than The Chap.
3:AM: To what extent is The Chap tongue-in-cheek? Is there a certain ethos inbeing a chap, do you think?
GT: At the risk of puncturing the mystique of it all, I would say both the magazine and its readers strike a humorous, tongue-in-cheek pose to make a serious stand against what they perceive as the banality and homogenisation of popular culture and fashion. By celebrating the English eccentric gent and exaggerating him somewhat, the result is a radical counterculture figure that flies in the face of bland teenage fashions whose purpose seems to be for everyone to look the same. Nowadays, middle-aged men with handlebar moustaches and tweed suits, smoking pipes, cause more of a sensation on urban streets than the, non-peacocking, youth.
3:AM: So do you see Chaps as a valid youth cult, as opposed to, say, chavs?
GT: The big difference here is that chavs didn’t name themselves, and probably wouldn’t relish the title. Chaps are self-proclaimed. Not sure if they’re a ‘youth cult’ but they have potential to be so. There aren’t really any proper youth cults any more, are there? Not much evidence of them on the street. If you saw a proper Mod today, you’d soon know he’d made the effort. Youth dress seems to be about not standing out, not making a statement, not showing off.
Perhaps the rise of the chav — contrived by some smartass on the Internet, unless I am mistaken — is symptomatic of the lack of direction of the youth. They are so passive that anyone else can come along and give them a name. They simply don’t care what they are, because they don’t stand for, or represent, anything.
Chaps are a cult in the sense that there is an understood dress code and attitude, similar aims and ethos among the followers. A definite reaction to something, in this case the status quo of modern culture. It isn’t as political as, say, punk, but it does say: we don’t like what we see around us and we are not a part of it. We are a part of something of our own creation.
3:AM: Isn’t this just people going around referring to each other as ‘decent coves’ or ‘cads’ and ‘bounders’ in print? To what extent do you apply the values you mentioned in real life?
GT: I find that question rather impertinent, sir! You bounder!
3:AM: OK, but is there any political agenda at play? Is it conservative by any stretch, small or big C? To some people’s minds, chappism might reek of monarchy, defence of privilege, the honours system, fox-hunting, the public school system etc. Or have I got it all wrong?
GT: I’m afraid you’ve got it all wrong! Chappism is all about maintaining dignity and panache in the face of penury; donning a silk cravat to claim benefits, spending your last fiver on a dry martini. Very few of the readers I have met come from privileged backgrounds. I don’t know whether you’ve read the magazine, but it gently mocks the very things you describe. Our manifesto urges followers to turn ancient rituals of courtesy and etiquette into revolutionary acts. There is nothing elitist about good manners and nobody is going to object to being treated more civilly. By adopting the dress code of the upper classes — and ignoring the rules about brown in town and so forth — we are rejecting the rules of the class system and proposing that anybody and everybody can be a gentleman or a lady. When we condemn ‘vulgarity’ we are not condemning the poor or the lower orders, but the dull, the conformist — the people who keep chains like Starbucks and Gap going because they cannot be bothered to discover their own individuality. That, to my mind, is ‘conservative’.
3:AM: Who is the average Chap reader then, in your opinion? Do you have any international profile, that you’re aware of?
GT: The average reader doesn’t really exist: I receive letters from 15-year-old schoolboys requesting advice on how to make their school uniform more elegant, to weird little nerdy fanzines in little jiffy bags from art students, as well as the more anticipated old duffers bemoaning the lack of pipe shops. But there is a small group of the most loyal readers, who always seem to crop up at every Chap event — and they are mostly male, mid-30s, disaffected, slightly affected, eccentric, snappy dressers, owners of either unusual facial hair or antiquated smoking habits. They usually have made the connection between such external ephemera of genteelity and downright depravity and decadence. Straight from the betting shop in Hornsey to an Opium den in Shanghai sort of people. At least that’s the internal fantasy.
None of them belong to real gentlemen’s clubs, but instead pipe smoking or moustache clubs. They are the lost Trevor Howards and Vivian Stanshalls of this world.
Internationally our reputation is slowly growing. There is a website in America called Dandyism that we have links with, and we receive occasional correspondence from Australia and Europe, but it’s mainly expats hankering for home. I suppose The Chap provides a notional form of Englishness that they miss, although deep down they know it isn’t really here any more.
3:AM: In your opinion, who are the greatest Chaps of all time, living or dead? Any bounders you’d care to mention?
GT: You’ll notice that they are all dead. The only living Chaps are the ones I mentioned in my previous answer about typical readers.
1. Trevor Howard. Combines rugged manliness with gentlemanliness. Classic Chap face — thin lipped, eagle-eyed, looks as if born with a pipe clamped between the teeth. Also Brief Encounter is one of my favourite films. His choice of playing the title role in Stanshall’s Sir Henry at Rawlinson’s End shows distinct good taste, even quite late in his life.
2. David Niven. As suave, gentlemanly and as dashing in real life as in his film roles. Had that air of insouciance that separates the sophisticated from the merely showy.
3. Jerome K Jerome. He dedicated a collection of essays to his favourite pipe. In the same book, he writes an entire essay on trouser pockets. What more can I say?
4. Gustave Flaubert. On a trip ostensibly to investigate ancient Egyptian culture and partially funded by the French government, he made instead a thorough inspection of the country’s bordellos, writing most eloquently about their occupants. His travelling companion mused that Flaubert would have been happier lying still on a divan, while the foreign world was paraded before him. He also wrote Madame Bovary and the Temptation of St Anthony.
5. Vivian Stanshall. Proved that you don’t have to come from the landed gentry to out-gentrify the lot of the aristocracy. Eccentric, creative, affected, a showman, a spectacle, a person who injected some colour into the world and was a joy to behold (if from slightly afar).
6. William Beckford. Eccentric 18th century recluse who built Britain’s greatest folly, Fonthill Abbey, which then collapsed due to medieval building techniques. Employed a dwarf dressed in gold to answer the doors, to make them seem even taller than their incredible height. Wrote English gothic masterpiece Vathek.
7. Cary Grant. Impeccably dressed at all times. Faultless manners. Dabbled with LSD.
Other Chap heroes of mine: Terry Thomas, Leslie Howard, Ronald Coleman, James Mason, James Stewart, Charles Laughton, Alistair Sim, John Le Mesurier, Anthony Valentine, Jeremy Brett. (though a few of them mainly appeal for the roles they played and were perhaps not quite so chappish in real life).
Bounders? Erroll Flynn springs to mind. Couldn’t possibly omit him from a Chap hall of fame, but he was a slave trader at one point and probably not much fun for some of the ladies in his life.
Finally, nearly all poets from Tennyson to Larkin (and mainly those two) are honorary Chaps, because poetry is the ultimate Chappist activity. I of course exclude our shabby modern offerings such as Mr Motion et al. Whatever happened to the relationship between poetry and being interesting?
3:AM: What must a Chap never be seen in public without?
GT: I would never say “a Chap must always wear a suit” because that sounds too much like the city worker’s dress-code and is far too prescriptive; suffice it to say that he should be elegantly and uniquely dressed. However, the following are de rigeur: some form of neckwear (excluding studded collars or bootlace ties); leather shoes; a hat (which MUST have a brim, with the single exception of the fez); gloves; a convenient implement to use in emergencies against attacks by hoi polloi — an umbrella, a cane, a swordstick; something that produces smoke — a cheroot, cigarette (but not “low-tar”) pipe or hookah (in exceptional cases such as aeroplane flights, snuff is an acceptable substitute); and a copy of The Chap.
3:AM: And definitive texts for a Chap’s home library?
At least one of the Jeeves and Wooster books by PG Wodehouse
Vathek – William Beckford
Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
On Dandyism and George Brummell – Jules Barbey D’Aurevilly
The Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow – Jerome K Jerome
The Moon’s a Balloon – David Niven
The Autobiography of a Cad – AG MacDonell
Collected Poems – John Keats
One-Upmanship – Stephen Potter
Gustave Flaubert – Flaubert in Egypt
Cocktails and How to Make Them – “Robert” of the Casino Municipal, Nice
A Rebours (Against Nature) – Joris Karl Huysmans
3:AM: Do you despair at the scant regard paid to modern manners these days? Do you think John Morgan’s [‘Modern Manners’ columnist for GQ] untimely death was instrumental in this or had the rot already set in?
GT: I have long held the suspicion that Mr Morgan’s untimely death was part of a larger conspiracy on behalf of Burberry-clad vulgarian forces. One cannot help noticing that the whole “Chav” movement began not long afterwards.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWEE
Gustav Temple is Editor of The Chap, a quarterly serving of advice on personal grooming, revolutionary etiquette and common courtesy, offering guidance to those cast adrift in a world of increasing vulgarity. Subscriptions are available on their site.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, October 7th, 2004.