J.B. Morton – ‘..one of the greatest English humorists of all time’

IMG_1914The Daily Express  celebrated the 80th birthday of the humorist J.B. Morton (aka ‘Beachcomber)  on 7 June 1973 with a long article and a tribute from Spike Milligan. Chesterton had described Morton as “a huge thunderous wind of elemental and essential laughter” and Evelyn Waugh wrote that he had “the greatest comic fertility of any Englishman.” He was certainly an inspiration for the Goons and subsequently Monty Python. Spike wrote:

I have met him once, though I have been a Beachcomber addict for a million years

It was a dinner the BBC gave to launch the television version of his column.

For years, when I was young back in Australia, I had collected all his stuff and stuck it in a book. I didn’t realise I had a sense of humour-myself until a discovered this man.

I didn’t know what to expect. But when he arrived he was just like his writing. There were lots of grey people there, and they did not know what to make of him. He kept launching into fantasy world.

Then at the end, he looked at his watch and said: “Goodness me, look at the time. I must go – I feel an attack of British Railways coming on.” I fell out of the chair laughing.

Beachcomber has always wielded a very special pen, a literary sword that could cut into places nobody else could reach. His is a kind of satire aimed at types rather than individuals.

He had a tremendous influence on me – much of what we did in the Goons was derived from his column. Major Bloodnock and Mr. Justice Cocklecarrot have so much in common. And they live with us every day.

I used to give lectures on his stuff during the war about the omnidirectal tea-firing tank which sent the Germans to sleep and other such dastardly weapons.

I think it was because I was such a fan that they asked me to do the programme. It had the highest ratings on B.B.C. 2 at the time.

Yet I was a little disappointed in some of the characters. Over the years, I had built up my own mental picture of them and the actors didn’t quite fit them.

I never quite understood how Beaverbrook came to employ him. It just does not  seem like his humour. And Beachcomber could be quite irreverent about the great man.

During the war, he wrote a piece saying: “Who is the Canadian madman going round pulling up iron railings? Doesn’t he know there is a war on? New Railings will be erected immediately so that they too can be pulled up in time!”

It is really way-out cockpit humour – totally original. He is one of the greatest English humorists of all time.

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3 thoughts on “J.B. Morton – ‘..one of the greatest English humorists of all time’

  1. R.M.Healey

    I used to mix him up with the author of The Way of the World, who was just as funny, but with a strongly satirical edge. I particularly liked the impoverished author, Julian Birdbath, who lived in a disused lead mine in Derbyshire and who never finished his Life of Stephen Spender. There was also the sociologist Dr Heinz Kiosk, whose catchphrase was ‘ We are all guilty.’

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  2. Paul O

    My first encounter with Beachcomber was the TV adaptation and the now rare vinyl record issued by the BBC. Then I delved deeper. I particularly recall the readings from the Directory of Huntingdonshire Cabmen, which connected with that strand of English humour that delights in absurd names. Also his tales of Boulton Wynfevers, a stately pile inhabited by a monomaniac milord with an aquarium in every room: possibly an inspiration for Vivian Stanshall’s Sir Henry at Rawlinson End. Apparently, the young J.B. Morton used to perpetrate hoaxes and mystifications as surreal as anything he imagined: in the 20s he famously piled up dozens of beer bottles on Virginia Woolf’s doorstep during the night.

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  3. Jot 101 Post author

    Thanks Paul and Robin. I did not know about the Virginia W beer bottle prank. An odd wheeze. Of course she herself was involved in a major hoax masterminded by the crazed Horace Cole where she and a bunch of costumed-up Bloomsburyites went on board warship HMS Dreadnought pretending to be foreign royalty and got a guided tour and left without being sussed out!

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