Winchester Cathedral, where Jane Austen was laid to rest 200 years ago this week, was the venue chosen for the unveiling of the new £10 bank note, which will feature a portrait of the English novelist. On a humid July day, tourists, pensioners, banknote geeks and a few noisy children packed the aisles.
The atmosphere was expectant, as worshippers gathered to get a glimpse of ‘Reverend’ Carney at the pulpit. Smartphones were whipped out as soon as he started speaking. I travelled with my family as an off-duty journalist and was expecting the rather dry and technical explanations favoured by the Bank of England governor in the inflation report.
But on this occasion he showed his human touch, paying tribute – as a Canadian – to British achievements in the arts and sciences and patiently fielded esoteric questions from members of the public: ‘Who will be on the new £50 note?’. ‘Will the notes be printed on BRITISH printing presses?’
The almost inevitable Doctor Who question – ‘Does Jane Austen’s face on a banknote represent girl power too?’ – caught him slightly unawares, but he dealt with it with diplomatic grace.
Of course the only question from an actual journalist was designed to catch Mr Carney out. The quotation on the note – ‘I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!’ – is spoken by a character called Caroline Bingley who in fact has no interest in books and is merely trying to impress Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy, a potential suitor.
Was this a mistake, the Reuters reporter’s question seemed to imply? Mr Carney played a straight bat. ‘It captures much of her [Jane Austen’s] spirit, at least in my mind,’ he said. ‘It draws out some of the essence of some of her social satire and her insight into people’s character.