These were being published in books from at least the late nineteenth century. Peter Haining, most of whose archive we now hold, collected a number of them for a projected book. Here are some examples he found. The first were sent in for a prize competition of c1900, the second bunch was assembled by Charlie James from a northern comprehensive school in 1987 and the third lot of howlers has a more international flavour:
Ben Johnson was the man who wrote a life of Bothwell. Bothwell was the man who murdered Mary Queen of Scots.
The fire of London, although looked on at first as a calamity, really did a great deal of good. It purified the city from the dregs of the plague and burnt down 89 churches.
Edward III would have been King of France if his mother had been a man.
When will you expect an eclipse of the sun to take place?
In the night.
The sun never sets on English possessions because the sun sets in the west and our colonies are in the north, south and east.
The zebra is like the horse, only striped, and is chiefly used to illustrate the letter Z.
Found in a University of London College magazine from December 1921 this poem/ parody by the novelist Stella Gibbons. She was 19 at the time and had just begun a two-year Diploma in Journalism at UCL. The course had been established for ex-servicemen returning from the First World War, but attracted several women, including another future novelist - Elizabeth Bowen. After a spell as a caustic book reviewer at The Lady her first book (poetry) was published in 1930, and in 1932 her masterpiece Cold Comfort Farm appeared. This, too, was a parody (of the current 'loam and lovechild' school of rural novelists.) The writers parodied are mostly somewhat forgotten: Mary Webb, Sheila Kaye-Smith, Eden Philpotts - although D.H. Lawrence and Thomas Hardy did not escape her mirth. In this piece modernist poets (T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound?) are mocked..
The Marshes of My Soul
(With apologies to the latest School of Decoratively- Melancholy Introspectives.)
The Pools of Weariness, flung in a glimmering chain
Reach the horizon.
And my thoughts, like purple parrots
In the sick, light trees
Blowing above those shallow pools
In whorls and whorls
Printing a monotonous pattern upon the heavy air
Like watery curves upon the silken robe of a dying Mandarin.
I am a peg, pinning up
Nebulous shadows of half guessed moods
Along the clothesline of "Let's-be-Clever."
Sometimes (ah - rape of the Muse by the cold fingered--)
Doubt takes me.
If all these mists and moods and parrots mean
Found in Arrows 87 (Summer 1964, edited by Roger Ebbatson) this amusing piece about Adam and Eve. The magazine was produced by Sheffield University Union and had poems articles, graphics etc., This squib was by Peter Mottley (1935-2006) who became an actor, director and playwright.
Eviction by Peter Mottley.
Dear Mr. Adam,
I am instructed by my client to serve the enclosed eviction order concerning the property you now occupy.
He feels that he is justified in this action in view of your recent behaviour, which constitutes a breach of the terms of your lease.
You will remember the Clause 4 in your lease permitted you full access to the garden on condition that you undertook 'to dress it and keep it', and that my client generously allowed you to take for your own use any of the fruits and flower which grow there. However, he specified quite plainly that you were not under any circumstances to touch the prize-winning fruit tree in the south-east corner. This clause has been broken quite blatantly by your wife, who has freely admitted taking fruit from this tree. Her excuse, that she thought it would be all right, is considered by my client to be inadequate.
Found - in Axle, a short lived magazine, from June 1963 this amusing and intriguing portrait of a sixties type (or archetype.) It was written by Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley the editors of the magazine. These 2 men, 23 at the time, went on to become successful pop music composers - hits included Dave Dee's Xanadu..In 1970 they even wrote a song for Elvis ('I've lost you'.)The reference to 'Dexadrin' is obscure- can find no trace of such a magazine, possibly ingested rather than read...
Son of the Sixties
Build: Tall; slim; muscular without exercise. Complexion: clear; permanently bronzed without sun or Man-tan; never sweats...Seldom laughs (but rare smiles are planned and dazzling - he was born in natural fluoride area). Hair: Black; well-combed, no dressing; styling suggests but never quite descends to more obvious fashions of the day (Frost, Como, etc.) Clothes: by John Michael and Marks and Spencer. Can wear white shirt for whole week. General appearance: Air of masculine competence cunningly offset by one or two ambiguous touches (name-bracelet, St. Christopher chain, pastel denim shirt); usual expression, mixture of Come-Hither and Come-Off-It; can appear alternately boyish and authoritative, a trump combination arousing maternal and subject feelings in women simultaneously, rendering him irresistible. Looks at best after all night party. Background: only son of fashionably separated parents (White Russian mother, Franco-Jewish father) whom he visited alternately in school holidays; discreet fostering of their sense of guilt won him ample allowance and Porsche at 18. Education: Attended Bedales where he swam on summer nights in nude and was encouraged extracurricular activities; he in turn encouraged extra martial activity of master's wife who fondly imagined she had done the seducing. Always the centre of any group, without responsibility of actual leadership...Scraped 3 G.C.E. passes and entered St. Martin's Art School where... he gained undistinguished diploma. Occupations: rejected father's suggestion that he should 'work his way up from the bottom' (in three years) in his costume jewellery business. After spell as bar steward on Azores run where he cut dashing figure in whites, found (with friend of girl friend's help) tailor-made niche as London P.R.O. for obscure but loaded mining venture in Pretoria which enables him to indulge twin ambitions of luxurious living and complete independence. Residence: From liberal expense account was able to set up basement flat in renovated Earls Court terrace, where he frequently throws lavish (but informal) parties that are unexceptionally tremendous successes and are usually raided. (But he has a way with The Law). Clubs: Discotheque, Le Gigolo, Muriel's National Film Theatre, La Poubellle, Rockingham, Ronnie Scott's (offer drinks at, but has never joined The Establishment). Takes: The Observer, Peace News, Dexadrin. Glances at: The Times, Daily Express, Izvetzia, Private Eye, Encounter, Town, Playboy, Paris-Match, Sight and Sound, his horoscope. Went through novel and poetry reading stage at 15; still studies reviews quite carefully. Listens to: Today (2nd edition), Pick of the Pops. Watches: Panorama, Tonight, Compact (for laughs and because he knows some of the cast very intimately), Points of View. Outlook: Intellectual inferiors regard him as unassumingly highbrow, while academics find his 'untouched originality' refreshing. Remarkably adaptable, is equally at home in company of Soho villains and company directors, pop singers and clergymen. Mixes everything from sex to drinks and generally likes neither straight. Believes in experience (hash-smoking, etc.) as a right rather than as anything wildly off-beat, but demands best in everything. A self-confessed dilettante, seeks to avoid type-casting; likes to confound admirers of both sexes by appearing in public with wholly atypical companions. An agnostic, takes pleasure in arguing case for Christianity and was cynical at attempts at compromise in Honest to God. Politics: Wouldn't vote in next election even if he were 21. Occasionally supports Committee of 100 demonstrations, but no longer marches ... Future: Middle-age. And then…? (Excerpt)
Found in a book* of tributes to Sir Edward Marsh, these two pieces unknown to the web - the foreword by Winston Churchill and the 'Tailpiece' by Max Beerbohm. Wikipedia (who regard him as a polymath) has this on him. Very clever, amusing, retiring, gay, one of the 'great and the good' and a patron of the arts - it is hard to think of a modern equivalent. Churchill, whom he served as Private Secretary for many years, attended his memorial and here contributes a touching piece on 'Eddie.' Beerbohm, who regarded him as 'not unalarming' also recognised him as 'one of the ornaments of his time.'
The friendship of Eddie Marsh is a memory which I put high among my treasures. We began working together at the Colonial Office in 1905 and from then onwards out association remained intimate and happy for nearly fifty years. He was not only an admirable Civil Servant, on whose judgement, loyalty, and competence I could always count, but he was a master of literature and scholarship, a deeply instructed champion of the arts, and a man for whom the esteem of his friends could not fail to be combined with their deepest affection. His serenity in all things made his companionship a pleasure; and his noble and generous nature made him an unfailing joy to men and woman of all generations who were so fortunate as to walk with him along the road.
I do not remember having anywhere at any time heard him spoken of by anyone as Edward Marsh. And yet, with his tufted eyebrows and his monocle, and his sharply chiselled features, and his laconic mode of speech, he was not, one would have thought, unalarming. Or at any rate one would have thought so if his great kindness of heart had not somehow shone through the rather frigid surface of his social form. He was immensely more interested in other people than in himself - though he must have known that he was undeniably one of the ornaments of his time.
*Sketches for a composite literary portrait of Sir Edward Marsh. C. Hassall and D. Mathews. London: Lund Humphries for the Contemporary Art Society, 1953.
Here are three photographs out of a possible six from the photo-archive of the famous newspaper El Mundo of Argentina. Interestingly, they are stamped 1st April 1935. Now, I don’t know if the Spanish, or indeed the Argentinians, reserve the 1st of April for tricks, leg-pulls, spoofs, scams or other deceptions, but if Dr Pribil, a Hungarian oculist, was deliberately playing a trick on journalists with his demonstration of ‘Invisibility Rays’, then he certainly went to a lot of trouble to do it.
According to the typewritten labels on the back of each photograph Pribil placed three objects—a teddy bear, a bronze statuette and an opaque china vase -- in his apparatus—basically a wooden box fronted by a picture frame behind which is a sort of slated affair. Out of the back of this box electric cables are connected to a supply. Unfortunately, the two photos showing how the objects gradually fade away are missing, but the last photo does show that all the objects have now disappeared.’ They are in the same place, perfectly tangible ‘, the caption points out, ‘but are completely invisible’.
Found - a Keystone file photo from March 9th 1963 of 16 year old novelist Felicity Moxton. Her book Bonsoir Maitresse: a novel (Pavilion Publications, London 1963) was a parody of Francoise Sagan's bestselling 1954 novel Bonjour Tristesse. It is quite rare but looks like this (the design very much like Francoise Sagan's French paperbacks):-
The back of the press photo reads:
Only 16 years old… is the young English writer Felicity Moxton and in a short time her first book will be to get in all book-shops. Felicity is the daughter of a writer in London. Her first book has the title 'Bonsoir Maitresse' and her pseudonym is 'Francine Saigon'. Everybody can see by this title and this name, that Felicity thought to the famous French author Francoise Sagan and her book 'Bonjour Tristesse'. Felicity told a newspaper, that she wanted to make a joke about the books of Francoise Sagan. Let us see, what Felicity had to write!
There are fake reviews at the rear 'Sagan, beware' (Paris Snatch) and 'Proceeds entrancingly from one triviality to another.' (Figarifico). The fictitious former works by Francine Saigon are noted as -Un Certain Sneer, Aimez-vous Hams? and *Marvellous New Ages. The blurb reads:
What is a mistress? How does a mistress begin? How does a mistress end? Exploring this theme, Francine Saigon's new novel tells the story of a young girl's relationship with a father who is more faithful to his old mistress than his successive wives.
Written in the inimitable style which is so familiar to Saigon devotees, 'Bonsoir Maitresse' will linger in the reader's heart long after the covers are closed.
Found in The London Mystery Magazine of April/May 1951 this amusing Sherlockian poem casting doubt on Watson's medical credentials…The author 'Sagittarius' was a journalist named Olga Katzin* who wrote several humorous and satirical books, some in rhyme. A short life is appended below. The London Mystery Magazine began in 1949 and went on into the mid 1950s. It gave its address as 221b Baker Street. Adrian Conan-Doyle (Arthur's son) 'not uncharacteristically' sued the magazine, but lost the case.
Illustrated by 'Figaro'
Holmes left one unsolved mystery,
The case of the strange M. D.;
Was he ever qualified?
Had he anything to hide?
And why was he always free?
Facts of his previous history
Researchers fail to trace,
But there’s something queer in his medical career,
For he never had a single case.
Nobody called Dr Watson
For medical advice;
If Sherlock in a hurry asked his company in Surrey,
Watson would be ready in a trice.
No one ever seemed to worry,
When he drove to Charing Cross,
Which strengthens the suspicion that as surgeon or physician
Watson was a total loss.
Another humorous piece from the papers of 'EVOE' i.e. Punch editor E.V. Knox. A Kit Marlowe parody…
MARLOWE IN ABADAN
"Our methods of dealing with Persia have scarcely been those of Tamburlaine the Great," I wrote; and then (remembering a recent dramatic performance) I thought "How very strange if they had been." Something, I suppose, after this sort.
Enter, from underground holes, MR. MOUSSADEK and the BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY, with great voluted swords.
Some more humorous writing from the papers of E. V. Knox ('Evoe.") He was, for a while, editor of Punch (1931 - 1949) and this may have appeared there although there is no trace of it online...
For long it was a fugitive dream. I would catch sight of it, as one sees, or seems to see, a wild animal far down a forest clearing, or might it be a woodland nymph or faun? Or perhaps I would trace it written in the colours of the sunset, or in the morning among the folds of mist as they cleared from the chimneys on the mountain tops.
Not sure where this came from but it is most likely to be from the voluminous papers of 'Evoe' - i.e. E. V. Knox. The poem parodied Colonel Fantock (from Troy Park, Duckworth 1925) is actually one of Edith Sitwell's finest, but 'Evoe' has picked up on her and her brothers' snobbery, haughtiness and pretentions. The full original poem can be found here. It contains some beautiful lines and has elements of tragedy, or at least pathos:
I was a member of a family
Whose legend was of hunting -- (all the rare
And unattainable brightness of the air) --
The parody dates from the early 1950s when it seems the Sitwells had become ubiquitous in British cultural life, possibly to a slightly annoying extent in the way that some British celebrities (with vast tribes of twitter followers) are 60 years later.
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!
Found - a not unamusing joke book Political Jokes of Leningrad by Arie Zand. (Published by Silvergirl, Austin, Texas 1982 - many thanks.) The jokes are now slightly dated, the best are about Brezhnev. There is a persistent theme of a fear of a Chinese takeover and the Bulgarian joke presumably reflects the way that Bulgaria was then viewed by Russians. The last joke is not exactly a rib-tickler and is slightly surreal...
A special commemorative stamp with a picture of Brezhnev has been issued. It is a fine likeness, yet there have been many complaints that the stamp does not stick on envelopes. An extraordinary commission was formed to investigate these complaints. Their findings corroborated the widespread suspicion that the stamp would not stick because people were spitting on the wrong side.
An international group of biologist had just completed a cooperative study of elephants in Africa. Upon their return to their respective countries each member of the group reported their findings. The German scientist wrote 10 volumes entitled: 'A Short Introduction to the Science of Elephants Observed in their Natural Habitat.' The French representative's work: 'The Sexual Life of Elephants.' The Russian: 'The Marxist Interpretation of Elephant Science.' The Bulgarian: 'The Bulgarian Elephant as the Loyal Companion of the Noble Russian Elephant.'
An American and a Russian argue about which country has more freedom. The American says: "I can walk in front of the White House and shout, 'Down with Carter,' and not one thing will happen to me."
The Russian, on the other hand, boasts: "I also can walk in front of the Kremlin and cry,'Down with Carter,' and nothing will happen to me either."
During one of their telephone conversations, Brezhnev confided of President Carter: "Can you imagine that last night I had the strangest dream: A great red banner was flying on top of the White House, and the letters on the banner said, in Russian: LONG LIVE COMMUNISM." Brezhnev laughed and wondered aloud, "What could that have meant."
"I don't know," said Carter, "but I have dreams like that too, sometimes. Why just last night I dreamt that there was a tremendous red banner over the Kremlin, but I couldn't read what the letters said."
"Why not?" asked Brezhnev.
"Well, I can't read Chinese," Carter replied.
An artist-modernist walked quickly into the museum. He was followed by two specialists on the arts, plain-clothed.
Found - a slim volume titled Stories told by Sir James Taggart. (Dundee, London : Valentine & Sons 1926.) This book is in a series of Scottish joke books which include the famous 'bizarre' book Jokes Cracked by Lord Aberdeen.
Lord Aberdeen's pal Sir James Taggart, a former Lord Provost of Aberdeen, was also a famous storyteller, notably against his own townsmen of 'the granite city.' It was said of him that he told 1000 jokes a year. His mournful look in the above photo reminds one of the old saying that '...to a Scot a joke is no laughing matter..' Here are a few short ones to get the flavour: 'An Aberdonian went away for a month's holiday, taking with him a dark green shirt and a pound note. He changed neither of them.' Or try this: 'A traveller at Euston Station was booking a third class single to Inverness and was informed, "Change at Aberdeen.'' "Na, na," said the traveller, "I'll lake my change now, l've been in Aberdeen before."
Almost all the jokes are on the themes of incredible meanness and/or drunkeness. Here are a selection of four the better jokes -the first about Lord Aberdeen himself :
The American humourist and illustrator Gelett Burgess is not much known in the UK. However, his very witty take on clichés and platitudes, Are You a Bromide ? (1907), deserves a place in the pantheon of classic US humour. Not only does it differentiate between Bromides and Sulphites—the former referring to someone set in their ways who uses trite sayings, while the latter are original thinkers with perceptive things to say, but it spawned the term ‘blurb’, which, of course, is still used today to describe a publisher’s puff for a new work.
The problem is that this word only appeared on the dust-jacket of Burgess’s book, which meant that—dust-jackets being discarded back then, as they still are, by all types of libraries, but not, thank goodness, by dealers—the term probably didn’t catch on as quickly as it should have done. And if it hadn’t been for scholars of book history, like dust-jacket supremo, Thomas Tanselle, the wrapper for Are You a Bromide might never have been brought into the light of day. Certainly, it was more innovative and amusing than most of this period. While the typical wrapper might feature a slightly modified reproduction of the title page, with perhaps some modest art work, Burgess’s is more like an advertising poster for the book. Hence it demonstrates precisely what a ‘blurb‘ was by giving an example of it. Clever stuff! [R.R.]
Found - in A Bunch of Blue Ribbons.A Volume of Cambridge Essays [Collected by I. Rose. London: Chapman & Hall, 1933] a satirical poem lampooning the celebrated innkeeper John Fothergill. Fothergill wrote a best-seller Diary of an Innkeeper and was known to Oxford students for his inn at Thame, frequented by, among others, most of the prominent members of the Brideshead set. Oddly, he is unknown to Wikipedia but has a good entry in the DNB. His Diary was republished fairly recently by the Folio Society. A Bunch of Blue Ribbons was a sort of counter blast to a recent work Red Rags -a record of pet hatreds and aversions by bright young students at Oxford and Cambridge. This poem is in a chapter called A Sob Sister defends Oxford by Christopher Saltmarshe (a Cambridge poet also unknown to the all-knowing Wikipedia):
I am giving below a disgraceful and insulting lampoon which fell into my hands. The subject is an inn-keeper, whose name is dear to the immediate generation of Oxonians, which learnt to appreciate him as a host, an epicure and a gentleman. As an example of the depths of scurrility to which the enemies of Oxford can stoop I, as an old Cantab., believe these verses to be unparalleled.
Found in Words Etc.,: A Miscellany (Wordspress, Haslemere 1973) this very short poem (above) by the British comedian Spike MilliganA Poem for the Lonely. Spotify also has a recording of Spike Milligan reading this excellent poem along with another inspired piece Orchids in my Glass. It goes like this:
We have cracked the midnight glass,
And loosed the racketing star-crazed night
The blind harp sings in the late firelight
And your hand is decked with white promises.
What wine is this?
There are orchids growing in my glass,
Good God, I'm pissed.
Spike with the young Prince Charles and fellow goon Harry Secombe
Found - an interesting Sherlockian letter in a collection of papers of the late 'Evoe' - the comic writer, satirist, poet and one time editor of Punch known as E.V. Knox. It is from James Edward Holroyd* dated 23/4/1967 from 11 Heath Royal, Putney to Knox in Frognal, Hampstead. He brings attention to his (Holroyd's) letter published in that weeks New Statesman and recalls a Press Club Sherlock Holmes dinner when he had sat with 'Evoe' and Sir Sidney Roberts, another follower of what Sherlockians call 'the higher criticism.' He invites him to visit old Fleet Street haunts with him ('a glass of wine at El Vino'). The published letter reads:
Your readers may wish to be reminded of the enchanting theory, advanced by E.V. Knox, that Conan Doyle's famous story The Hound of the Baskervilles was originally written as a libretto. In support of his claim, he quoted the following stanza :
I stooped, panting, and pressed my pistol
To the dreadful, shimmering head,
But it was useless to press the trigger,
The giant hound was dead.
No wonder that on another occasion Holmes remarked : "Cut out the poetry, Watson".
Evoe's original piece A Ramble in Dartmoor published in Punch 21/1/1948 also quotes these lines of 'found poetry' from The Hound of the Baskervilles:
The night was clear and fine above us
The stars shone cold and bright,
While a half moon bathed the whole scene
In a soft uncertain light..
He concludes 'I can only hope that we may one-day discover the manuscript of the original poem, ballad, or libretto from which the story has been reduced down into workaday prose.'
*Editor of Seventeen Steps to 221B: A Sherlockian Collectionby English Writers and Baker Street By-Ways.
Only rarely did Molotov, now retired, show the slightest trace of a sense of humour. Khruschev , on the other hand,won full marks in Downing Street for the story he told there.
He was describing his difficulties with his new middle class of technicians. 'You can't' he explained 'go on telling them what to do and think.The Secret Police handle them stupidly.'
Then he said that recently he had joined some technological students over the samovar to see what sort of ideas they had.
He turned to one and asked: 'Tell me, who wrote Anna Karenina?' 'Not me Comrade Khruschev, not me. I assure you.'
Next day Khruschev sent for the Secret Police chief. 'You see' he told them 'what nonsense goes on as the result of your stupid methods. I ask a student who wrote Anna Karenina and me tells it wasn't him.'
Later that day the Secret Police chief came back and said: 'I have dealt with the matter of the student you complained about.'
'Well' said Khruschev, 'what have you done?'
'I had him round the office for an hour and he has now confessed he did write Anna Karenina.'