The late great Clement Freud once remarked that the British idea of Germany being the ultimate adversary is a relatively new theory, one spawned by two twentieth century World Wars. ‘France is really the enemy,’ he said. ‘France has always been the enemy.’ In historic terms, he’s right. But I like to think of our Gallic cousins across the Channel as estranged siblings, ones we were once attached to and ones we have spent the time since our split engaged in a long-running rivalry with. Even when we were at war with Revolutionary and Napoleonic France at the end of the eighteenth century, French fashions and style were still regarded by Brits as the height of sartorial sophistication. There has been a constant cultural tit-for-tat between Britain and France from 1066 onwards; for every William the Conqueror, there is a Henry V; for every Charles de Gaulle, there is a Winston Churchill; for every Brigitte Bardot, there is a Jane Birkin.
As today is Bastille Day, I think it only fitting that Europhobia is put aside and we celebrate all the good stuff to have made it over the White Cliffs of Dover, across that small stretch of water that separates us from them. As the title indicates, I am a self-confessed Francophile. It was the first foreign soil I ever set foot upon, and I will never forget a teenage crush on the daughter of the guy whose camp-site I stayed at in the summer of 1981, a petite blonde by the name of Francoise. Sigh. Where is she now, I wonder? Anyway, I hereby unveil my fifty favourites and invite you to nominate a few of your own…
1 Napoleon Bonaparte∗ 2 Simone de Beauvoir 3 The Magic Roundabout 4 Serge Gainsbourg 5 Jeanne Moreau 6 Brigitte Bardot 7 Juliette Greco 8 Marcel Proust 9 Louis XIV 10 Voltaire 11 Francois Truffaut 12 Jean-Luc Godard 13 Toulouse-Lautrec 14 Jean-Paul Sartre 15 Charles de Gaulle 16 Edith Piaf 17 Catherine Deneuve 18 Albert Camus 19 Alexandre Dumas 20 Jules Rimet 21 Jean Cocteau 22 Louis Pasteur 23 Jean Genet 24 Jacques Tati 25 Coco Chanel 25 Yves Saint Laurent 26 Barbarella 27 The Lumière Brothers 28 The Montgolfier Brothers 29 Sylvie Guillem 30 Orangina 31 The Marquis de Sade 32 Gitanes 33 Edouard Manet 34 Hector’s House 35 Hector Berlioz 36 Eric Satie 37 Belle et Sebastien 38 Georges Méliès 39 Rene Descartes 40 Jacques Cousteau 41 The Flashing Blade 42 Jules Verne 43 Champagne 44 Braille 45 The Rococo 46 The Nouvelle Vague 47 Francoise Hardy 48 Joan of Arc 49 Eleanor of Aquitaine 50 William the Conqueror
∗And before the pedants revolt again, I know Boney was Corsican; but his birthplace was a French colony and the French regarded their colonial territories as sharing the soil of the mother country.