James Barbour

James Barbour

Press Secretary and Head of Communications

Part of UK in USA

4th November 2013 Washington DC, USA

Remember, remember! The fifth of November….

The following is a guest post from Carole Johnson, First Secretary Asia in the Foreign &  Security Policy Group at the British Embassy, Washington.

Returning on the metro from a concert at the Kennedy Center, last Saturday night (and what a fantastic living memorial that arts centre is) I was met with carriages of cartoon characters and caricatures.  Spending my first Halloween in the US is something of an eye-opener!  At this time of year in the UK, Guy Fawkes night, or bonfire night is much the bigger celebration.  For those of you whose knowledge of the gunpowder plot is based on the 2006 film V for Vendetta, you might believe that Guy Fawkes succeeded.  In that the Houses of Parliament were indeed blown to smithereens.  But in fact the famed gunpowder plot of 1605 was foiled with just hours to go (reportedly by what these days we would term ‘intelligence’ or more plainly spying), after 18 months of planning.

The idea behind the plot was to blow up King James, the royal family and the assembled ruling classes of England at the State Opening of Parliament on 5 November 1605.  Thirty-six barrels of gunpowder were found stacked in the cellar directly below where the king would have been sitting for the Opening of Parliament the next day. Guy Fawkes was arrested, tortured and later jumped from the gallows and broke his neck just before he was due to be hanged.   The plot struck a chord even in what were then unstable times and over 400 years on, the reigning monarch in UK still only enters the Houses of Parliament on one day each year for the State Opening of Parliament.  With a classic British respect of tradition, each year the Yeoman of the Guard search the cellars of the Palace of Westminster  – where Fawkes was discovered and arrested –  to ensure that there is no repeat of the Gunpowder Conspiracy.

The tradition of lighting bonfires in fact began immediately. On the very night that the Gunpowder plot was foiled on 5 November, bonfires were set alight to celebrate the safety of the King.  And that tradition continues today. Effigies of Guy Fawkes, “the Guy,” are burned, and fireworks set off to commemorate what would have been a spectacular attack. On what is often a cold and damp night in the UK, families and communities wrap themselves in gloves, hats and scarves, brave the outdoors, and come together to celebrate a peculiarly British festival.  Fireworks, sparklers, roaring bonfires and toasted marshmallows bring alive the history from 4 centuries before when treason was foiled and Parliament and all it stands for stood strong.

About James Barbour

James Barbour is the Press Secretary and Head of Communications at the British Embassy in Washington. He joined the FCO in 1997, having studied Politics at the University of Edinburgh.…

James Barbour is the Press Secretary and Head of Communications at the British Embassy in Washington. He joined the FCO in 1997, having studied Politics at the University of Edinburgh. Roughly half of his career has been spent in London, in a range of jobs covering the OSCE and the Balkans, corporate social responsibility and corporate governance, press work and public relations. From 2000 to 2004 James was posted to the British High Commission in Cape Town, and more recently spent 2007 to 2011 in Moscow. In Washington James is responsible for managing and portraying the Embassy’s – and the British Government’s – public presence in the United States, engaging in debates in the US media environment on policy issues of importance to the UK, and contributing presentational perspectives to the Embassy’s policy discussions. James is keen to help the FCO make the most of social media; this is his third blog, and he often dabbles with Facebook, Foursquare and Twitter. James is joined in Washington by his wife Carrie and their two children.

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