In the first week of 1973, the week Britain joined the Common Market, the Government put on a festival of European culture so that the British people could share what their Prime Minister, Edward Heath, called his “heart full of joy” at their country’s shiny new Euro-future. Alas, the “Fanfare for Europe”, though now entirely forgotten, ended up symbolising the ambivalence of the 40-year relationship that has followed.
A plan to borrow the Bayeux Tapestry and show it in Westminster Hall was dropped after it was pointed out that the butchery of Saxons by Normans was hardly a suitable theme for the occasion. Instead, the centrepiece was a showcase of European treasures at the V&A – the French refused to lend the Mona Lisa, despite Heath’s personal plea, on the grounds that the British Museum had just refused them a loan of the Rosetta Stone. As an alternative, with a certain unintended symbolism, they offered Georges de la Tour’s Le Tricheur, a picture of someone cheating at cards.