The 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.