A Sitwell Parody

Edith Sitwell by Roger Fry

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.

Continue reading


Innkeeper John Fothergill lampooned

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.

Continue reading


Very short poem from Spike Milligan

Found in Words Etc.,: A Miscellany (Wordspress, Haslemere 1973) this very short poem (above) by the British comedian Spike Milligan A 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

The Hound of the Baskervilles – the libretto?

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 Collection by English Writers and Baker Street By-Ways. 


The Shortbread Eating Primer

Found, a genuine British schoolroom memento - a 'treated' copy of  Benjamin Hall Kennedy's Shorter Latin Primer recently described by Mary Beard in The Independent as 'the Rolls Royce of textbooks'. Certainly it is one of the longest lived -120 years after its publication it is still the best-selling book in the Classics section of most college bookshops. As Mary B says 'It took only the addition of a few extra letters and lines to turn The Shorter Latin Primer into The Shortbread Eating Primer.'

This copy (1938) comes with  serious schoolroom wear and ink blotches worthy of Molesworth...


The Princess and the Pauper—seeing is not always believing

Sent in by loyal jotperson RMH. It is worth noting that despite his suggestion HG is not totally forgotten and, in fact, is quite saleable. He was also, at one time, collected by Teflon man Kenneth Baker and other lesser lights...

Here’s a puzzle. Look at the cover of this oddity recovered from a job lot two years ago. Open the volume and seemingly, what we have is the printed programme notes of a comic drama performed at ‘The Theatre Royal’, somewhere or other, bound in with a carbon copy of the script. Looking more closely we find that the venue is Government House and the reviews, which are from Canadian newspapers mainly from the Ottawa district, are far too facetious to have been genuine. Further research reveals that, despite the highly professional quality of the programme, everything suggests that the ‘extravaganza’ is purely an amateur production. A little more delving tells us that most of the players are members of the same aristocratic family—in fact sons and daughters  of the fourth Earl of Minto, Governor General of Canada, then a British colony.

We have already noted that the playwright was ‘Col. D Streamer’ and the small print reveals that this supposed army officer (who also directed the play) was the author of Ruthless Rhymes for Heartless Homes, which had appeared a year before the play was performed. By now, most fans of ‘sick’ humour will have twigged that Col. D Streamer was the pseudonym of one of Britain’s most admired comic poets--a man worthy to stand by Thomas Hood and Edward Lear-- much darker than the former and just as inventive as the latter. We are talking, of course, about Harry Graham, then just 26, who was aide de camp to Lord Minto and a close friend of the Minto family (pic below).

The Governor General and Graham, who were both old Etonians, got on famously, but it is not known what his employer thought of such a ‘ruthless rhyme’ as the following:

Billy, in one of his nice new sashes
Fell in the fire and was burnt to ashes
Now, although the room grows chilly
I haven’t the heart to poke poor Billy

However, it is likely that Minto took the play’s rather disparaging references to Canada, and Ottawa in particular, in good heart. In his turn Graham had the script ( which was probably his own )and accompanying programme notes specially bound and presented to Lady Minto at Christmas, 1900, possibly just after the play hit the Theatre Royal. Incidentally, this grandiose- sounding venue was probably just a modest lecture hall within Government House, specially adapted for this one performance by family and friends.

In the following year Graham departed for the Boer War. He returned unscathed in 1902 for a second term as Lord Minto’s right hand man. Before his death in 1936 he went on to publish more comic verse  and compose many more comic dramas, most of which, like The Princess and the Pauper,  are now totally forgotten.