How British bulldog got the bird

12.04.11: STEPHEN BYERS, the prime minister, yesterday embraced the magpie as England's national emblem and bade farewell to the British bulldog.

The prime minister was speaking at the opening of the new Museum of England in former Treasury offices in Whitehall.

In his address, Byers said that England had to let go of outmoded ideas: "Our eclecticism has always been our greatest strength and it will continue to guarantee our future."

Sir Simon Thurley, the museum's director, explained that the exhibits show England as a great innovator. "We go from the Magna Carta, because we invented limited government, to the first edition of The Sun, because we invented tabloid newspapers," he said. "Oh, and you'll find a loo in there somewhere because we invented that, too."

Damien Hirst, president of the Royal Academy, said: "My giant bulldog in formaldehyde says it all. The iconography of England transcends time and place."

Reaction to the museum has been mixed. "Fantastic! It's why I became a naturalised Englishman," enthused the historian Niall Ferguson, who was born in Scotland.

On the other hand, Sir Peter Ackroyd, the novelist, denounced the exhibits as "triumphalist rubbish". He also criticised the new emblem, saying: "The magpie is a thief and a scavenger but the bulldog was fierce, loyal and strong." DRS

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Should the English national emblem be the bulldog or the magpie?


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