When does one stop being a bounder and start being a cad? Not perhaps a question that exercises many people today, but one that came up as I was reading DR Thorpe’s highly readable one-volume life of Harold Macmillan.
Supermac is one of my favourite 20th-century Tories and it is from him that I copy the affectation of sometimes wearing my bow tie tucked under the collar of my dress shirt; on another occasion I recall being immoderately impressed, moved even, by a tweed suit he wore to church which had patches at the knees – the apotheosis of patrician make-do-and-mend chic. I do not dare to go as far as Lord Stockton, although I do have a good selection of shirts with frayed collars.
Anyway, the cad and bounder question does not apply to the man who told us we had never had it so good, but to his quondam friend Bob Boothby, who cuckolded Macmillan at the end of the 1920s and was also involved with Ronnie Kray. Undeniably engaging, Boothby was the first true TV Tory and thanks to his frequent appearances on the nascent broadcast medium was about as high-profile as it was possible to get in Macmillan’s Britain.
It is doubtless this mixture of a winning personality and a ready wit, allied to his risqué lifestyle, that prompted the Queen Mother’s alleged description of him as “such a jolly man”, adding that he was “a bounder, but not a cad”. Unfortunately the distinction between these two unfavourable epithets has been so blurred that even my dictionary cannot tell the difference, defining a bounder as a cad.
Sadly it seems there was not a lexicographer handy to ask the former Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon exactly what she meant. I can only think that a bounder, occupying the boundaries of life, knew where to draw the line (or at least knew where to locate the line), whereas a cad, with its history of derivation involving cabbies and ticket collectors, was simply not posh enough to be a bounder.