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Tuesday, 22 May, 2001, 13:08 GMT 14:08 UK
Two fingers Prescott
In gesture politics, nothing is more potent than a variation on the famous Churchill V-sign. But such emulation has its risks, writes BBC News Online's Ryan Dilley.
When John Prescott decided to illustrate to the assembled press his claim that the government had delivered economic security and social justice, he was perhaps unwise to count these achievements on two raised fingers.
While "flicking the Vs" languishes fairly low down the league table of disparaging gestures, it retains the power to upset many Britons.
V on signs
London Underground recently banned a poster advert for a clothes shop which showed five women giving the V-sign, deeming the pose "rude, offensive and extreme" and "too aggressive".
The law also takes a dim view of the so-called two-finger salute, with those who indulge in the gesture risking a reckoning in court.
Mr Gow was accused of having gestured to fans of opposing Inverness Caledonian Thistle. The player explained he had been merely celebrating his side's scoring of a vital second goal in the match. He escaped conviction.
Though today more associated with irate British motorists, the V-sign actually has its roots in the nation's medieval military adventurism.
During the Hundred Years' War between France and England, the English longbow archers proved decisive.
So adept were they at decimating the enemy's ranks, that captured English archers supposedly had their index and middle fingers amputated to prevent them ever taking up their bows again.
The insulting, proletarian gesture was returned to polite society during a more recent war, that against Nazi Germany.
With much of Europe crushed under Hitler's heel, British prime minister Winston Churchill made the V-sign his own shorthand for hope and resistance.
Coarse, of course
Churchill's "V" stood for victory, or victoire if you were in Occupied France and vrijheid for the Flemish.
However, "Winnie's" choice of gesture wasn't entirely removed from its earthy roots, according to Richard Overy, professor of Modern History at King's College, London.
The list of those who have borrowed Mr Churchill's gesture is as varied as it is long.
With palm facing forwards, the V-sign was adopted as a peace symbol, finding particular favour in the counterculture of the 1960s. This did not stop Republican president Richard Nixon appropriating the V-sign, even while he continued the war in Vietnam.
The third way
Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher altered the salute, famously adding a third finger to symbolise her third straight election victory in 1987.
The same gesture was used by President George W Bush in his recent election campaign. The third digit was here intended to reflect Dubya's all important middle initial.
However, Mr Prescott may take comfort that his minor gaffe was very much in keeping with the Churchillian tradition, according to Natalie Adams of the Churchill Archive.
"We have photographs of Churchill giving the V-sign both ways, it doesn't seem that he was discriminating."
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