Max Beerbohm—practical joker

Max Beerbohm young picIn The C. O. Jones Compendium of Practical Jokes(1982) Richard Boston narrates some entertaining anecdotes concerning the humorist Max Beerbohm. Most of those involving the ‘ alteration ‘ of books remind us of the hilarious alterations  made in the ‘50s and 60s by Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell on books borrowed from Islington Public Library, where they are still displayed. It is possible that the two men got their idea from Beerbohm.

One joke, according to Boston, was played on ‘a volume of exceptionally solemn poems by a dullard called Herbert Trench ‘. Boston doesn’t identify  the collection, but since it contained a ‘ romantic dialogue between Apollo and a mariner ‘ it was definitely Apollo and the Seaman(1908).This is what Beerbohm did.

With a sharp knife and painstaking care Max scraped out the aspirates at the beginning of every word beginning with ‘h’ spoken by the mariner, and substituted an apostrophe. The result was that a speech intended to be of a classical dignity was turned into straight Cockney. Max then sent the book to the author, commenting that he had notpreviously come across this edition of the book.

The work had been done so carefully that it appeared to be perfectly genuine. At first Trench was horrified. When he tumbled, he was offended. Max made it up by explaining to Trench that he considered him to be a true poet —-‘Otherwise there wouldn’t be any fun in making fun of you’.

 Some lines altered by Beerbohm may have appeared thus:

Apollo:    “ And whence did that craft hail, sailor,

Of which you seem so fond ?”

Seaman:   “ It was some ‘ arbour of the East

Back o‘ beyond, back o’ beyond. Continue reading

Jokes Cracked by Lord Aberdeen


This book has honourable mention in ‘Bizarre Books’ by the wacky duo Lake and Ash. It is in the section ‘Against all odds / Titles to make the heart sink.’ I just bought a decent variant copy of the 1929 first edition for £15 from an Oxfam shop (via Amazon) and the cheapest now available is £30 with one chancer asking £125. Len of the Chines, normally angrily overpriced, wants £45 for his decentish copy with the gilt thistle on the cover. Other titles in this section of ‘Bizarre Books’ include ‘The Wit of Prince Philip’ ‘Songs of a Chartered Accountant’ ‘Not Worth Reading’ ‘The Bright Side of Prison Life’ ‘A Holiday with a Hegelian’ ‘Along Wit’s Trail: The Humor and Wisdom of Ronald Reagan’ and ‘Cameos of Vegetarian Literature’. This might just be a growth area in collecting…

Here for the moment is one of Lord Aberdeen’s jokes entitled ‘Another Irish one’:

An Irish Census recorder on enquiring – ‘How many males in this house?’ received the reply – ‘Three of course; breakfast, lunch and tea!’

As the foreword notes ‘ In the realm of wit and humour, Lord Aberdeen is a name to conjure with… the publishers have great pleasure in introducing to the public a few of his gems.’ There is a ribtickling short ghost joke where a man shoots off his foot thinking it is a ghostly hand, a girl from Aberdeen who kept quiet about where she was from because her ‘mither’ told her ‘Noo Annie be sure and dinna boast.’ There’s even a good book joke that would probably have them speechless on the Edinbugh fringe:

‘A certain man had built and furnished a new house and was showing it to Cardinal Cullen who was accompanied by Father Healy. In one of the rooms, on a shelf above the writing table, there stood a neat row of books. Pointing to them the owner said “These, your Eminence, are my friends.” But Father Healy chimed in (wait for it) “Yes, and he has treated them like friends; he has never cut them.’

ROTFL as they used to say. Et tu Healy etc.,

The fatal effects of reading Dutch


Dutch poem typescript 001Found in a copy of Montague Summers’ Restoration Theatre is this typed copy of a poem entitled ‘The Dutch Mail or The Tragic Fate of Examiner 3X22.’ It is dated February 27th 1918 and signed E. de K, which suggests that it is an original composition. The corrections in black ink bear this out. It is most likely to have been sent to a magazine editor.


It tells the story of a polyglot censor named Examiner 3X22 whose job it was to censor outgoing mail during the First World War. Though happy to be dealing with mail written in many languages, he is forced to admit one day that he couldn’t read Dutch. He quickly remedies this defect until he becomes so fluent in the language that he is mistaken for a native. Unfortunately, his mastery means that he is now forced to censor ‘stacks’ of letters from the Dutch East Indies. The cumulative effect on the censor of dealing with these ‘verbose effusions vapid’ results in a rapid decline. One day he faints from the effort, falls from his chair onto the floor where he rapidly expires.


This is obviously a squib, possibly ridiculing both the Dutch language and in particular employees of the Dutch East Indies Company whose language it was . On the surface Examiner 3X22 seems to be working for the Netherlands government, but this cannot be so if he is unable to read Dutch. On the other hand, if he is working in Britain, how is it that so much mail from the Dutch East Indies is being censored in Britain? A possible alternative to either of these scenarios is that the censor is working in South Africa, which during the First World War was a self-governing dominion of the British Empire and as such contributed troops to the war effort in Europe and suffered many losses. The writer’s surname de Koch/ Koch/Klerk was a common enough one in South Africa, which had been colonised by the Dutch as well as the British. In addition, an online postal history site records a letter sent to Batavia, the capital of the Dutch East Indies (now known as Indonesia), being censored in 1915.


The squib may have political undertones. After all, the Boer War was a recent memory for both the defeated Boers and those of British heritage, though the exact nature of the tensions in South Africa that prompted the satire remain to be discovered. We welcome comments from the Jottosphere on this issue. [R.M.Healey]


More good Edwardian jokes

Edwardian joke book third page 001For some reason, puns ( usually by Tim Vine ) often win the best gag contest at the Edinburgh Fringe. We at Jot 101 are at a loss to understand why this should be so. Truly witty people hardly ever use puns to get a laugh. In the following third helping of samples from a small bound collection of cuttings collected by a comedian around the year 1900 there are no puns, just witty, often sardonic, or even zany,  asides. They are all the better for that.


Druggist: “ Yes, madam, I remember very well your buying a stamp.”

Lady: “ Well I put it on a very important letter and posted it. It has not been received. I want you to understand that I shall buy my stamps elsewhere if this occurs again.”


“ Excuse me, but it seems to me that I must have met you before. Are you not a brother or near relative of Major Jones ?”

“ No, I am Major Jones himself.”

“ Ah, indeed ! That explains the remarkable resemblance “.


A French lady once said to her husband, who was much given to gesticulation, “ Don’t talk so much, dear, you’ll tire your arms.”


Mr Howland: “I tell you, Maria, you’re worrying over nothing. I can stop smoking any time I want to.”

Mrs Howland: “Well, then, stop now.”

Mr Howland: “But I don’t want to now.” Continue reading

More gags from an Edwardian joke book

Edwardian joke book pages 001In an earlier Jot we selected at random some pretty witty items from an Edwardian  comic’s gag book composed of clippings from newspapers and magazines. Here are some more. Astonishingly, most sound so very modern in their style of humour. None of them contain puns.


He—Last night I dreamt that I died. What do you suppose waked me up ?

She—The heat probably.


IN THE CHEMICAL LABORATORY.—“ Professor, what has become of Tom Appleton ?. Wasn’t he studying with the class last year?”

“ Ah, yes. Appleton—poor fellow! A fine student, but absent-minded in the use of chemicals—very. That discolouration on the ceiling—notice it?”


“That’s him.”

  Continue reading

Jeffrey Kwintner, Village Idiot ?

Jeffrey Kwintner Village Idiot squib 001Here is a puzzle. Found among some ephemera at Jot HQ is this six-page photocopy of a typewritten squib entitled ‘My Life and Times, by an anonymous Jeffrey Kwintner’. The piece is obviously a satire on the business dealings of the real-life Jeffrey Kwintner, a well known entrepreneur of the Swinging Sixties who with John Simons co-founded the ‘Squire Shop ‘ in King’s Road, Chelsea and a string of sixteen menswear shops called ‘Village Gate’. He ended up founding the much admired  Village Bookshop, Regent’s Street, which eventually went out of business.

The satire is written in the first person and is cast in the form of a psychedelic dream sequence, influenced partly by Dickens’ Christmas Carol. In it Kwintner leaves home for his office in King’s Road, where he has some strange encounters with a telephone caller who asks him if his name is Lucifer, a dancer with a debit book in his hand, a cashier who faints at the sight of him, and a shrouded figure who introduces himself as Jack the Jive, an alteration tailor Kwintner had once known from his early days in the fashion business, who suspects him of betraying a trade secret. Soon afterwards a mysterious telephone caller  with an oriental voice asks him if he is Mao-Tse- Cohen; then an Irish worker in his warehouse calls him a ‘ heathen Managing Director ‘ and a ‘ Decadent Capitalist Renegade’. Kwintner runs out into the street and takes refuge in a shop called Cassidy One, where he proceeds to empty the till, the assistant crying ‘ Petty cash. God save Malcolm Muggeridge and all who sail in him.’ Continue reading

An 18th Century joke

Found – a scrapbook of press-cuttings mostly from the Irish newspaper the Cork Gazette. This cutting entitled Bon Mot dates from about 1789. Most cuttings are about oddities, strange wagers (can a walking man cover 20 miles faster than a walking horse?) horrible executions, daring feats, obituaries, a letter from Dean Swift, marriages of royals etc., The following is a genuine 18th Century joke. If they had stand up comedians then this would presumably have them ROTFL.

An eminent painter, conversing with a gentleman upon the subject of his profession, very judiciously observes, that the air, the character of a person, was as essential as the face to constitute a just likeness: – that a person, so situated as only to have his face discerned, might not be known, even by his intimate acquaintance, for want of the character which his air would contribute. “ For instance”, says he “a man standing in the pillory.” – “Very true,” interrupted the gentleman “a man in that situation would certainly be without character.”

Whistler Stories

Found – Whistler Stories (Harper, New York 1913) put together by Don C Seitz. Many of the stories associated with the artist James McNeill Whistler are ironic jokes about his incredible self regard (‘…responding to an admirer who stated that there were only two great painters – Velasquez and himself. “Why drag in Velasquez.”’) or withering put downs. This exchange with Oscar Wilde is a good example of the latter:


Wilde asked the artist’s opinion upon a poem which he had written, presenting a copy to be read. Whistler read it and was handing it back without comment.
“Well,” queried Wilde, “do you perceive any worth?”
“It’s worth its weight in gold,” replied Whistler.
The poem was written on the very thinnest tissue-paper,
weighing practically nothing. The coolness between the two men is said to have dated from that moment.

The next story is a rare one – someone turns the tables on the great artist:

Whistler had a French poodle of which he was extravagantly fond.  This poodle was seized with an affection of the throat, and Whistler had the audacity to send for the great throat specialist, Mackenzie.  Sir Morell, when he saw that he had been called to treat a dog, didn’t like it much, it was plain.  But he said nothing.  He prescribed, pocketed a big fee, and drove away.  The next day he sent posthaste for Whistler.  And Whistler, thinking he was summoned on some matter connected with his beloved dog, dropped his work and rushed like the wind to Mackenzie’s.  On his arrival Sir Morell said, gravely:  “How do you do, Mr. Whistler?  I wanted to see you about having my front door painted.”

Lastly a tale that shows his self opinion was justified, although it took a few decades…

An American millionaire, to whom wealth had come rather quickly from Western mines, called at the Paris studio with the idea of capturing something for his gallery.  He glanced casually at the paintings on the walls, and then queried:
“How much for the lot?”
“Four millions,” said Whistler.
“My posthumous prices!  Good morning!”

Stephen Pribil—the Invisibility Man

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’.

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Russian Jokes (Brezhnev era)

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.

Aberdeen humour from Sir James Taggart

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 ' 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 :

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A Khruschev joke

A clipping from the Daily Telegraph 2/6/1956.

Khruschev Anecdote 

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.'

Tolstoy Redivivus

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.'

More jests old and new

More jokes from Jests New and Old collected by W. Carew Hazlitt etc., ( Jarvis, London 1886). These are some of the better jokes from a list of 600 or so. Not exactly rolling in the aisles material but probably pretty rib-tickling in their day. We published a few a week back and they proved popular.

A man went out rabbit-shooting, but could not get any sport. "So," said he, "I lay down where they could not see me, and made a noise like a turnip."

A lady begged of her lover to give her his picture to hang at her breast. Said he, "that would at once let your husband know of our amour."–"Ah," said she, with naiveté, "but I would not have it drawn like you."

A worthy gentleman, living at Vauxhall, had the bell-wire of his door cut one night by some inebriated persons returning from the Gardens. To prevent the recurrence of a similar outrage, he ordered the bell-hanger to place it out of reach.

Sydney Smith spoke of a lady's smile being so radiant that it would force a gooseberry-bush into flower.

Old Jokes 1886

From Jests New and Old collected by W. Carew Hazlitt etc., ( Jarvis, London 1886). These are some of the better jokes from a list of 600 or so. Not exactly rolling in the aisles material but probably pretty rib-tickling in their day. Possibly in the hands of a comedian like Eddie Izzard, or Russell / Jo Brand or Chris Rock a few laughs could be extracted from them. They are no worse than some of the jokes to be found  at the email gossip sheet Popbitch's Old Jokes Home every week.

Some years ago, says Richardson in his "Anecdotes of Painting," a gentleman came to me to invite me to his house: "I have," said he, "a picture of Rubens, and it is a rare good one. There is little H– the other day came to see it, and says it is a copy. If any one says so again, I'll break his head. Pray, Mr. Richardson, will you do me the favour to come, and give me your real opinion of it?"

Reynolds, the dramatist, observing to Martin the thinnes of the house at one of his own plays, added–"He supposed it was owing to the war." "No," replied the latter, "it is owing to the piece."

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Riddle Me Ree

A few riddles from a mid 19th century joke book Tom Brown's Jest Book. Purchased from the amazing library of Jeremy Beadle MBE (1948 -2008) British entertainer, television star,  hoaxer, quizmaster, book collector and philanthropist. He had a dozen shelves of joke books, mostly modern and the family kept a lot but this one escaped. Most are slightly groan-making to modern ears, some slightly  smutty and several by coincidence concerned with sheets...

Why is an unbound book like a lady in bed ?
Because it is in sheets.

Why is a lady in her shift like the Hague ? Be-
cause she is in Holland.

Why is a drunkard with a fiery face like a Chris-
tian Monitor ? Because he puts in mind of Hell

Why is a Prime Minister like a May pole ? Be- .
cause it is a high post.

Why is a grave-digger like a waterman ? Because 
he handles skulls.

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I have found a curious pamphlet from the rather neglected Mill House Press which was run by Edward Gathorne- Hardy whose pic is below. Printed on mould made paper in 1963 It is one of 200 copies only and called Inadvertencies collected from the works of several eminent authors.

Basically a collection of inadvertently obscene passages from mostly 19th century classics. The double entendre game. This passage from Charles Dickens gives the flavour -- 'She touched his organ; and from that bright epoch, even it, the old companion of his happiest hours, incapable, as he had thought, of elevation, began a new and deified existence.' My favourites are from Henry James. There is always a faint air of embarrassment with the Master anyway and Gathorne- Hardy has found some corkers.

"'Oh, I can't explain,' cried Roderick impatiently, returning to his work. 'I've only one way of expressing my deepest feelings - it's this.' And he swung his tool." (Roderick Hudson)

"You think me a queer fellow already. It's not easy to tell you how I feel, not easy for so queer a fellow as I to tell you in how many ways he's queer." (Passionate Pilgrim)

'What an intimacy, what an intensity of relation, I said to myself, so successful a process implied! It was of course familiar enough that when people were so deeply in love they rubbed off on each other....' (The Sacred Fount)

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