Emulating the gallantry, adaptability, and dedication to duty displayed by English gentlemen throughout the imperial occupation of India and decades of adventurism in darkest Africa, former BP CEO Tony Hayward's flip, and often arrogant, response to the Deepwater Horizon's devastating oil spill this April marked, at long last, a shining, highly public return of the classic British gentleman.

Only Hayward possessed the uniquely English unctuousness and resolve to note that the spill—the largest of its kind in North American history—was "tiny in relation to the total volume of water" in the ocean. Nobly disdaining the outrage of shrimp-boat-owning commoners whose petty livelihoods were foundering in muck from the Macondo well, Hayward, like the dukes and regents of yore, dutifully took time off to attend a yacht race, expressing the bitter regret proper to his station in life when his yacht did not win.

As public uproar grew, Hayward refused to lower his standards, and in a moment that perfectly encapsulated the British byword "Keep Calm and Carry On," he declared, without a hint of irony, "I'd like my life back."

A more classic example of British compassion and grace under pressure could hardly be imagined. When little people whose homelands were devastated for generations to come overreacted by demanding Hayward be fired, he put the Americans, Mexicans, and other colonials in their place after his forced resignation by saying that, perhaps if he'd earned a theater degree instead of one in geology, there would have been less outrage from a hostile public. In an era that has seen the U.K. become synonymous with social conscience, humility, and perspective, Hayward represents a remarkable hearkening back to a proud, centuries-old British tradition.