The Yellow Peril ?

Anyone recall that classic episode of Father Ted in which Ted is accused of racism after he is unwittingly caught making fun of the small Chinese community on Craggy Island? Only a decade or so earlier it had been acceptable to call the Chinese ‘chinks ‘ or ‘slitty-eyed’ and remark on their skin colour and droopy moustaches. Further back still, Sax Rohmer became a best-selling author with his tales of the criminal Dr Fu Manchu and Music hall artistes made jokes about opium dens, Chinese laundries and the white slave trade.

One of these artistes was Billy Bennett, who worked the halls from 1919 until his death in 1942. One of his specialities was to recite ‘ burlesque monologues ‘ –not only on the stage but also on radio—and some of the texts of these were published in booklet form for use, presumably, to keep up morale during the early years of the Second World War. These monologues were liberally laden with double entendre and barely disguised racist slurs that would prevent them from being performed today. Continue reading

The Right and Wrong People to invite to a Christmas party

how-to-ruin-christmas-illustration-001Two extracts from The Perfect Christmas (1933) by Rose Henniker Heaton.

Right people

Cheerful People

Lots of Young People

The guest with a car

The Enterprising Girl

The Elderly Woman who can tell fortunes

The Elderly Man (if red-faced and jolly).

The Handy-Man (issue invitation early, as he is in great demand).

Anybody good with children.

The Unselfish Friend.

 

Wrong people

The Bone-lazy.

The Egoist.

Mischief-makers.

Spoil-sports.

The Greedy and the Selfish.

Mean People (who suffer tortures at Christmas).

People who always feel “out of things.”

[RR]

 

Twelve Miles from a Lemon

img_1366-624x380Found in a bound volume of The Idler Magazine (Chatto & Windus, 1892. Volume 1, February to July. pp 231 – 232) this piece by regular contributor Robert Barr. The Idler was edited by Barr with  Jerome K Jerome. It ran from 1892-1911. This piece was found in the always interesting section ‘The Idler’s Club’, fairly heavy on the whimsy but never unamusing– see an earlier jot  where, among other things, Barry Pain proposed that ‘..amateur dramatics would be much improved if performed in total darkness and thus they would also be able to avoid paying a licence fee…’ This piece by Robert Barr has a curiously modern feel about it (if you substitute the internet for the telegram) and the idea of being 12 miles from a lemon echoes the current city dweller’s fear of being more than ‘four miles from a latte..’

Some years ago, somebody* wrote a book entitled ‘Twelve Miles from a Lemon’. I never read the the volume, and so do not know whether the writer had to tramp  twelve miles to get the seductive lemon toddy, which cheers and afterwards inebriates, or the harmless lemon squash, which neither cheers nor inebriates. I think there are times when most people would like to get twelve miles away from everything – including themselves. I tried to put a number of miles between me and a telegraph instrument, and flattered myself for a time that I had succeeded. I dived into the depths of the New Forest. The New Forest is popular in summer, deserted in winter, and beautiful at any season. I found a secluded spot in the woods, and thought I was out of reach of a telegram. I wish now I had not got so far away from the instrument. The boy came on horseback with the message. It was brief, coming well within the sixpenny range, and it stated tersely that the printer was waiting for these paragraphs. The boy said calmly that there would be fifteen shillings and sixpence to pay for the delivery of that yellow slip of paper. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Anti Coronation satire 1953

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Found – a 1953 Communist Party booklet criticising the amount of money being spent on the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. The figure of 20 million pounds is probably about a billion now but it may not be totally accurate. The name Beavermere is a compound of the two major Press Barons of the time-  Beaverbrook and Rothermere. The style is that of a contemporary gossip column:

Lord and Lady Beavermere will be staying at Claridge’s during Coronation week. Claridge’s will be more than usually expensive because there are so many people like Lord and Lady Beavermere competing for room. The reason why they are stopping at Claridge’s is because the Beavermeres, like the others, have let their town mansion. Living in Lord  Beavermere’s house is the Rajah of Muddlecore who is paying £1000 for the week so as to be on the Coronation route. So, despite the expensiveness of Claridge’s, the Beavermeres can afford to do themselves well. Continue reading

An Acrostic and an Alphabet

IMG_1590Found in Herbert Kynaston.  A Memoir. (Macmillan, 1912)  an acrostic for a bazaar to raise money for a home for ‘Friendless Girls’ (below). The book has the ownership signature of F.E. Balfour (1922). This is almost certainly  Ronald Edmond Balfour , who among other things, wrote a bibliography for E.M Forster’s 1934 book on Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson. In World War 2 he was something of  a hero and there is much on him at the Monuments Men site. He had a huge book collection and went to Eton and King’s College Cambridge (hence the Forster connection.) Possibly inspired by Canon Kynaston’s acrostics (and double acrostics) he wrote out an alphabet at the end of the book. It is headlined ‘Camp Alphabet from the ECC of October 10th 1872.’ This is probably the Eton Cadet Corps, who are still in existence (David Cameron was a member- hence his fondness for The Jam’s Eton Rifles.)

A was an adjutant booted and spurred,

B was a bugle incessantly heard

C was the Colonel commanding the lot

D was the dog he would fain have shot

E is for earwigs esconced in one’s shirt

F the fleas, field- mice and frogs all alert.

G was the beard who so firmly behaved

H was H. Hobbs without mirror who shaved

I was inspection of blankets and store

J the smart jackets our officers wore

Continue reading

Odyssey of a Barbarian

Found in a Penguin Odyssey translated by the classical scholar Dr E. V. Rieu a typed signed letter from the novelist, playwright and the biographer of Aleister Crowley John Symonds to Dr Rieu. EVR’s reply is witty and good-natured…

IMG_1375Methuen and Co., Ltd.

36 Essex Street, London W.C.2

22nd September 1961

Dear Sir,

Some years ago I bought your version of THE ODYSSEY and THE ILIAD, and put them on a shelf beside my bed, intending one night to begin reading them, and thus fill a literary gap. And there they remained until the month when I took down THE ODYSSEY removed the paper wrapper, felt the fine blue cloth binding, gazed at the clear print and began reading.

Splendid and immortal yarn! But what a barbarian Odysseus is! He is like a comic-strip superman of the Daily Mirror. And then I came to Book XXII which you describe in your introduction as “the magnificent climax”. What is magnificent about it? The cruelty of Odysseus appalled me. Merciless butcher, without charity! He won’t even spare the tearful women. The horrors described on page 324 made me feel sick and I flung the book into the fireplace.

Continue reading

A Club for Millionaires

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Illustration by Dudley Hardy

Found in The Idler Magazine (Chatto & Windus, 1892. Volume 1, February to July. pp 109-110) this piece by regular contributor Barry Pain. The Idler was edited by Robert Barr and Jerome K Jerome. It ran from 1892-1911.

Over the years, the roster of writers who contributed to various issues was impressive: O. Henry, Mark Twain, Conan Doyle, Eden Phillpotts, Marie Corelli, Barry Pain, Israel Zangwill, Grant Allen, W. W. Jacobs, and Robert Louis Stevenson. At a single sitting, the pages took the reader from travel adventures to cultural appreciations of events in the home island nation. “The Idler‘s Club” was a standard feature of most issues. Various writers sketched out opinions in ironic and exaggerated language. This piece was found there. It was Barry Pain’s second idea in this issue – his first was that amateur dramatics would be much improved if performed in total darkness and thus they would also be able to avoid paying a licence fee…His idea for a club follows:

Barry Payn (sic) sympathises with the millionaires.

IdleraMy second proposal is to establish a club for millionaires. We see suffering all around us, and it is useless to close our eyes to it. There are millionaires in our midst; and, whether we like it or not, they are out brothers and sisters. Putting it on grounds which will appeal to everyone – I mean the lowest possible grounds – we cannot afford to miss an opportunity of making a little out of them. If we explore the region of the docks, we find separate homes there for sailors of every nationality; there is even a home for lost dogs. But nowhere do we find a home for millionaires. I propose to establish a proprietary club for them, a little room with a sanded floor, where they will find that absence of luxury which they must miss so much. They will be able to get a chop or steak they; wine will not be served, but a boy will fetch them beer if they feel that they don’t want it; a large cup of cocoa will be one penny, and a small one will be half-a-crown.

I have forgotten my reason for that last regulation, but I remember that it was logical. One of the cheaper evening papers will be taken, and members of the club can have it in turn; or, if they prefer it, they can do without it. I have no wish to limit their liberty more than is absolutely necessary for their own discomfort. Everything that can done to make the place nasty will be done. I intend, for the protection of the general public, to make the club exclusive. Only millionaires will be eligible. There will be an entrance fee of a thousand guineas and an annual subscription of one hundred. The subscription, together with a statement of the place of their birth, if any, must be forwarded in advance to the proprietor. I shall be the proprietor myself. I have other proposals to make, but these are enough for the present. I may have occasion to refer to the subject again, but I make no threats.

rowland2

The Miseries of Modern Life

Miseries of Travel (Rowlandson 1806)

In 1806 a witty Oxford don called James Beresford published The Miseries of Human Life, or The last Groans of Timothy Testy and Samuel Sensitive, in which a pair of curmudgeons railed against all the 'injuries, insults, disappointments and treacheries of everyday life'.Today they would probably be diagnosed with clinical depression, but Bereford’s book turned out to be a huge best-seller, proving that black humour is always popular in the UK. Indeed, rarely has mental illness been a source of such razor –sharp observations as those that emerged from the mouths of these Regency Victor Meldrews.

Some of the wit directed at miseries associated with coachmen, ostlers and taverns is very much of its time, but much of it has remained timeless and can still raise a smile today. I particularly like the following examples from their observations on ‘ Miseries of the Table ‘

After eating mushrooms—the lively interest you take in the debate that accidentally follows on the question ‘whether they were of the right sort ?’

Nicholas 'Horse Whisperer' Evans and his disastrous Scottish mushrooming party of a few years ago, gravely ill after consuming specimens of cortinarius speciosissimus, might wince at this one.

Or what about this ?

On taking your dinner from an a-la-mode beef house –the relish of your favourite dish disturbed by the perpetual recurrence of a doubt whether the animal you are feeding on was a native of the stall or of the stable

Seemingly, horse meat was ending up in fast food outlets even in Regency times!

To be continued… [RR]