LONDON -- Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been left red-faced after the national flag was displayed upside-down at a ceremony with visiting Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.
Union Jack flags are waved by fans in Trafalgar Square in London during the British Olympic and Paralympic Heroes Parade in 2008. Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been left red-faced after the national flag was displayed upside-down at a ceremony with visiting Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. [Agencies]
Even worse, observers note teasingly that the gaffe reflects his current political woes, since traditionally flying the flag upside-down on a ship signifies that it is in distress.
The red white and blue flag, commonly known as the Union Jack, was proudly in place at a ceremony to sign a business deal in Brown's Downing Street office on Monday.
But eagle-eyed observers noted that the flag was mistakenly attached upside-down on the wooden stick, placed on the table in front of Business Secretary Peter Mandelson.
The proper way to display the flag is with the broad white diagonal stripes at the top on the side nearest the flag pole, on Monday someone had clearly attached the miniature flag the wrong way up.
A Downing Street spokesman admitted the mistake.
"It is regrettable that on this occasion the Union Flag was not displayed correctly. We have looked into how this happened and have taken steps to ensure it is correctly displayed at all times in the future," he said.
But that did not stop observers having fun with the symbolism of the error.
"You would think people in Downing Street would recognise it because they see the flag so often," Mike Kearsley, director general of the Flag Institute, told the BBC.
"Having the flag upside down historically was a sign of distress. You might have it put it up on a fort to warn those in the know, other British forces, that there was trouble from the enemy."
And he added: "I'm surprised that people of the calibre of Mandelson and the prime minister could allow such as mistake.
"They were just little plastic flags on wooden sticks, which you could easily take off and put back the right way up."