Sunday Times: "Should It Be Union Flag Or Is Jack All Right?"

Discussion in 'The Fleet' started by soleil, Oct 15, 2013.

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  1. "True to form, the Last Night of the Proms prompted the annual crop of anguished mail about flags, in particular the red, white and blue items being waved around by the singalong crowd in the Albert Hall. Was that a Union Jack, or a Union Flag? Was it upside-down, inside out, and should it, in any case, be displayed anywhere except on the front end of a Royal Naval vessel, the Queen’s residences when she’s not in residence, or the crayoned faces of England football fans?

    The Scouts have a lot to answer for, or whoever it was who inculcated this neurosis in half the British population. The letters which were published in the paper on the subject prompted a lively correspondence on our website. I particularly liked this contribution, from “Baltimore”.

    “It is a myth much loved by false pedants, that the correct name for our national flag is the ‘Union Flag’. Now that we have access to the Times Archive we can find by searching for the phrases ‘Union Jack’ and ‘Union Flag’ that the first phrase occurs 7,982 times between 1785 and 1985, whereas ‘Union Flag’ is found only 626 times, and many of those were not actually referring to the national flag, but just accidental conjunctions of the words. The other common occurrence was in the correspondence columns when a few pedants put the case that everyone else was wrong and they were right.” He then referred to the forthcoming meeting of The Times Style Guide council. “I wonder if the name to be used for our national flag could be added to the agenda. A victory over the false pedants on this issue would be very welcome.”

    It is true that we’re always being hauled over the coals for using the ‘wrong’ term, and the current Style Guide entry doesn’t do a great deal to help: “Union Jack except in most naval and some ceremonial contexts, when Union Flag is correct; note that in the Royal Navy, Union Jack is used only when flown at the jackstaff. Context is everything: eg, a tourist in The Mall waves a Union Jack; the coffin of a British soldier is draped in the Union Flag.”

    As it happens, “Baltimore” would seem to be backed up by the horse’s mouth, or Cdr Bruce Nicolls OBE RN (Retd), who curates the website of The Flag Institute, “the national vexillological organization of the United Kingdom”, at

    “It is often stated that the Union Flag should only be described as the Union Jack when flown in the bows of a warship, but this is a relatively recent idea. From early in its life the Admiralty itself frequently referred to the flag as the Union Jack, whatever its use, and in 1902 an Admiralty Circular announced that Their Lordships had decided that either name could be used officially. Such use was given Parliamentary approval in 1908 when it was stated that ‘the Union Jack should be regarded as the National flag’..”

    As to orientation, I’m with Martin Attrill, of Plymouth: “Seeing the Oxford English Dictionary has now accepted the alternative (wrong) use of ‘literally’ because it has been used that way so extensively, perhaps it is also time to accept the Union Flag can be flown any way up. Apparently an upside-down union flag is a sign of distress, but I believe we now have modern newfangled devices to employ, such as flares, radios and satellite telephones.”

    Should it be Union Flag or is Jack all right? | The Times
  2. Union Jack or Flag? It just doesn’t matter, experts say

    "There are few certainties in life, but one is that whenever a report appears in The Times referring to the Union Jack, someone will write to the paper explaining that the correct term when it is flown on land is the Union Flag. A long, and possibly tedious, correspondence may then ensue.

    No more. The country’s foremost flag experts have commissioned research establishing once and for all that the two terms are interchangeable, and that if anyone wants to call it the Union Jack, whether it is flown from a jackstaff, waved on the Queen’s birthday or worn as a pair of underpants, they are perfectly entitled to do so.

    Graham Bartram, chief vexillologist [expert in the study and collection of information about flags] of the Flag Institute, said that the research was commissioned to end decades of debate about the correct term for the flag.

    According to some, Union Jack is a term only to be used within the context of the Royal Navy, when the flag is flown from the jackstaff, the small mast at the front of a warship.

    This, however, is wrong, according to Mr Bartram. “The two terms have been used throughout history completely interchangeably,” he said. “People get very excited about this. The weird thing is, we cannot work out why. If anyone was going to get excited about it, it is us. But we are the ones going, ‘Don’t worry about it. It’s just a name’.”

    The flag came into being in 1606 under James I of England and VI of Scotland after the union of the English and Scottish crowns. According to the Flag Institute, it was known simply as “the British flag” or “the flag of Britain”, and was ordered to be flown at the main masthead of all British ships. Later it was flown from the mast on the bowsprit, the jackstaff.

    Later in the seventeenth century the flag was called “the Jack” or “Jack flag”, although this seems to have been because a jack was a term for a small flag.

    “When the flag was first created they didn’t give it a name at all,” said Mr Bartram. “That was probably the problem. It was only 30 years later that they started calling it the Union Flag or Union Jack.

    “It wasn’t called the Union Jack because it was flown from the jackstaff, it was called the jackstaff because that was where you flew the Union Jack.”

    Rules restricting what the flag could be called and when were laid down in the 1880s by the Victorians, who pronounced that the flag should be called the Union Jack only when it was flying from the jackstaff, he said.

    The Admiralty, however, has frequently called it the Union Jack whatever its use, and in 1902 an Admiralty circular said that either name could be used officially.

    In 1908 the Earl of Crewe, responding to a parliamentary question on behalf of the Government, said: “The Union Jack should be regarded as the national flag and it undoubtedly may be flown on land by all His Majesty’s subjects.”

    Mr Bartram said that after he appeared on Radio 4 programme Broadcasting House, some people wrote in approvingly to say that “Union Jack” is a more forceful phrase the “Union Flag”.

    He said: “It is a little more cheerful than ‘Union Flag’. Ninety-nine per cent of the population know the flag as the Union Jack. If it is not wrong, why should we criticise people for using it?” "

    Union Jack or Flag? It just doesn’t matter, experts say | The Times
  3. Ninja_Stoker

    Ninja_Stoker War Hero Moderator

    Personally? I'm not bovvered either way.

    For those that are, the "jackstaff" (flagpole thingy) at the pointy end of a war canoe in harbour is where we normally put that particular flag.

    If it causes angst, then it makes me all the more happy to keep calling it a Union Jack, together with the majority of the population.
    • Like Like x 1
  4. tiddlyoggy

    tiddlyoggy War Hero Book Reviewer

    Another theory I have read (though I can't remember the source): in Georgian/Edwardian/Victorian days, there was a tendency to refer to many things as "Jack" hence; Jack the Ripper, Jack o'Lantern, Jack in the box etc etc, there are many if you think about it.
  5. exJenny

    exJenny War Hero Moderator Book Reviewer

    Call it what you want. Just don't fly it or adorn it with lovingly supportive messages/dross if it's not the right way up!
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2013
  6. Ninja_Stoker

    Ninja_Stoker War Hero Moderator

    Can I call it upside down?
  7. exJenny

    exJenny War Hero Moderator Book Reviewer

    Foxtrot Oscar ninja ;)
    • Like Like x 1
  8. In BR20 (Flags of All Nations), we only listed one British Jack and it was the UK Civil Jack (Union Flag with a white border). Although once only worn by Pilot Launches and QHMs, it's now allowed to all UK Vessels as a Jack.

    Anyway, as all authority has been handed to the The Flag Institute, if they say it can be called Jack or Flag then that's it; ENDEX. If only the Monarch and the Admiralty had thought to document the correect address.

    Attached Files:

  9. tiddlyoggy

    tiddlyoggy War Hero Book Reviewer

    Wow Sol, my mates call me old for listening to Radio 2, but Radio 4? That is old!!!!
  10. Radio 4, wifey is an avid listener but I think it's because it's the only thing guaranteed to make me leave the room!
    • Like Like x 2
  11. I've always thought 'jackstay transfer' was a contradiction of terms...........jack stay, as in remain where you are...transfer, as in .. go somewhere.

    I'll get me coat ! :walk:
    • Like Like x 1
  12. Radio 4 is comparitively young, some of us still hanker after the Home Service when we had proper radio announcers and newsreaders. It's never been the same since they let Wilfred Pickles in.

    • Like Like x 1
  14. wave_dodger

    wave_dodger War Hero Book Reviewer

    Dear god, not you too!! My wifes started on Radio 2 - dull dull dull

    And I'm not touching Radio 4 until I start my old persons state pension
  15. A pal of mine suffers from low blood pressure (yes, low) and being nearly blind he listens to the wireless a lot. I've advised him to listen to Radio 4's Womans' Hour. If that doesn get one's BP to nose bleed levels, nothing will.

    Anyway, that has jack to do with the OP's topic, which may now be flagging.
  16. tiddlyoggy

    tiddlyoggy War Hero Book Reviewer

    WD, you keep on pretending to be young by listening to the moronic idiots that present Radio 1 then. I will enjoy music from the likes of The Jam, The Clash etc etc presented by grown ups. You can't pretend to be young forever shipmate:smile:
  17. (granny)

    (granny) Book Reviewer

    why not ? (8,9, 10)
  18. Agreed, Radio 1 is hideous. I do actually listen to Radio 4 and I'm not arsed to admit it. People over the age of 25 who listen to Radio 1 should be dismissed immediately as fools.
    • Like Like x 1
  19. Blackrat

    Blackrat War Hero Moderator Book Reviewer

    Jack, flag, be damned. It's a colour.

    Posted from Hell using Lucifer's mobile.

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