Tom Lehrer was 85 on Tuesday. I was going to write something at the time, but events overtook me.
Lehrer was one of the wittiest, most intelligent and musically talented of all the 1950s and ’60s entertainers, yet somehow he never came to terms with either showbiz (he disliked appearing in public) or the ‘New Left’ of the 1960′s (despite his own left-liberal views). He was a humourist first and a political satirist second, saying. “If the audience applauds they’re just showing they agree with me. They’re not being amused by it. I’m sure in 1968, I could have gotten up and said something like ‘Cops are pigs,’ and they’d applaud.. But that’s not humor. So I dropped out just in time.”
Lehrer is the originator of the famous quote to the effect that satire died when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (in 1973), but he had already more or less given up songwriting and performing years before then, and returned to the world of mathematics (he had an MA from Harvard and taught at MIT, Harvard and Wellesley). And, in any case, he’s always been highly sceptical about mixing politics with entertainment, saying in a 2000 interview ”I don’t think this kind of thing has an impact on the unconverted, frankly. It’s not even preaching to the unconverted, frankly. It’s not even preaching to the converted; it’s titillating the converted…I’m fond of quoting Peter Cook, who talked about the satirical Berlin kabaretts of the 1930s, which did so much to stop the rise of Hitler and prevent the Second World War.”
Anyway, it’s good that the great man is still with us, even if he rarely performs and is not nearly well enough remembered. Happily, though, he’s been quite extensively recorded and filmed over the years:
Werner von Braun:
Poisoning Pigeons in the Park (warning: not political, just anti-pigeon – JD):
I Wanna Go Back To Dixie:
On St Patrick’s Day, we bring you perhaps the most bizarre lyric ever sung by Louis Armstrong: “I was born in Ireland (Ha, Ha)”…
Louis Armstrong And His Hot Five, November 1926: Irish Black Bottom
Louis’s tireless biographer Ricky Riccardi writes:
Admittedly, this is not songwriting as its finest but as a novelty, it’s good fun. The “black bottom” was a popular dance of the 1920s so this tune humorously pretends that it’s also taken Ireland by storm. If Louis had to record something so silly in the 1950s, critics would scream at the producers for forcing it on him. But “Irish Black Bottom” was written by the aforementioned Percy Venable so more than likely, it was a staple of Louis’s act at the Sunset. And can’t you imagine Louis bringing down the house with that vocal? That “ha, ha” he gives after singing “And I was born in Ireland,” breaks me up every time. I can only imagine what it did to the audiences who heard him do it live.
The song begins with the funny sound of Louis and his Hot Five swinging through a sample of the Irish classic “Where the River Shannon Flows” before Louis swings out with the main melody, which is predominantly in a minor mode until the end. Louis’s lead sounds great and Dodds is bouncing around as usual but trombonist Hy Clark, a substitute for Kid Ory, sounds hesitant and doesn’t add much. After a chorus and an interlude by pianist Lil Armstrong, Louis takes the vocal. If you can’t make it out, here’s what he says:
All you heard for years in Ireland,
was the “Wearin’ Of The Green”,
but the biggest change that’s come in Ireland
I have ever seen.
All the laddies and the cooies
laid aside their Irish reels,
and I was born in Ireland
(Ha, Ha), so imagine how I feels.
Now Ireland’s gone Black Bottom crazy,
see them dance,
you ought to see them dance.
Folks supposed to be related, even dance,
I mean they dance.
They play that strain,
works right on their brain.
Now it goes Black Bottom,
a new rhythm’s drivin’ the folks insane.
I hand you no Blarney, when I say
that song really goes,
and they put it over with a wow,
I mean now.
All over Ireland
you can see the people dancin’ it,
’cause Ireland’s gone Black Bottom crazy now
I don’t know how you can’t get swept up in that offering. Armstrong doesn’t so much sing it as shout it, or talk it, but his spirit sure gets the message across (though sometimes, he’s so far from the written melody, it sounds like he’s singing a different song on top of Lil’s chording on the piano). After the vocal, Clark and Dodds take forgettable short solos and breaks before Louis carries the troops home with brio. Louis’s lip trill towards the end is particularly violent and right before his closing breaks, he dips into his bag for a favorite phrases, one that ended both “You’re Next” and “Big Fat Ma and Skinny Pa.” The concluding break is so perfect in its phrasing and choice of notes that I believe it might have already been set in stone by Pops during his live performances of the tune at the Sunset. Either way, that’s no reason to criticize him; it’s a perfect ending and puts an emphatic stamp on a very entertaining record.
That’s all for now. Have a happy St. Patrick’s day and don’t forget to mix in a little Louis with your Guiness. I hand you no blarney, it’s a great combination…
Mr Justice Sweeney said he had concerns about the “absolute fundamental deficits of understanding which the questions demonstrate”. He added that, since most of the answers were in his directions to the jury, he doubted that “the extent to which anything said by me is going to be capable of getting them back on track again”.
“I am like Mr Edis in the position that after 30 years of criminal trials I have never come across this at this late stage,” said the judge. “Never.”
Mr Justice Sweeney’s remarks as he discharged an incompetent jury in the Vicky Pryce case, somehow reminded me of this little classic:
It’s almost a pity that he will forever be remembered for one particular role:
No question, of course, of which party the well-meaning, but deluded and self-righteous middle class prat Tom Good would have been founder-member.
Wodehouse’s idyllic world can never stale. He will continue to release future generations from captivity that may be more irksome than our own. He has made a world for us to live in and delight in - Evelyn Waugh
Most of the people whom Wodehouse intends as sympathetic characters are parasites and some of them plain imbeciles, but very few of them could be described as immoral - George Orwell
Wodehouse is back on TV (BBC 1, Sundays), in the form of the Blandings stories about Lord Emsworth, his fearsome sister Constance, the ambitious secretary Baxter and Emsworth’s prize sow, The Empress.
Those of you not already aux fait with the Wodehouse oeuvre will have gathered just from the above, that this is pretty lightweight stuff, completely devoid of any pretensions to social commentary or psychological insight. It’s pure entertainment and – more to the point – pure escapism.
Wodehouse’s published writings began in the very early years of the last century and continued right up to his death in 1974, when he left an unfinished manuscript that was published posthumously as Sunset at Blandings. But (as Orwell pointed out) the world of Wodehouse was outdated even by the 1920′s: Emsworth was a throwback to a bygone Edwardian age and Bertie Wooster really died in the corner of some foreign field round about 1915.
Wodehouse’s reputaton has by now just about about recovered from his appalling misjudgement when, living in France in 1941 and having been interned by advancing German forces, he agreed to broadcast some lighthearted “chats” on Nazi radio. These were apolitical in tone and content, but naturally laid him open to the charge (made most forcefully by ‘Cassandra’ of the Daily Mirror) that he’d been a willing tool of Goebbels’ and had agreed to broadcast in order to get himself released. George Orwell considered Wodehouse to have acted like a bloody idiot, but wrote an essay (In Defence of P.G. Wodehouse, February 1945) that strongly defended him against charges of treachery. It turns out that the British authorities reached the same conclusion, but decided not to tell him, and Wodehouse spent the rest of his days brooding in self-imposed exile in America.
When considering what was undoubtably a dreadful error on Wodehouse’s part, it is worth remembering that he was the creator of Sir Roderick Spode, a thoroughly unpleasant bully and demagogue who turns up in several of the Wooster stories, described as “founder and head of the Saviours of Britain, a fascist organisation better known as the Blackshorts.” Not conclusive proof perhaps, but pretty persuasive evidence that Wodehouse had no love of fascism.
But why on earth would any person of even vaguely leftist inclinations actually enjoy these farcical tales of dotty aristocrats, domineering aunts and over-privileged wastrels?
The sheer escapism has a lot to do with it: I know that I am very far from being the only leftie who’s found solace at Blandings Castle and/or the Drones Club when life’s become difficult one way or another. Then there’s the sheer craftsmanship of his plots, and -especially – his use of language.
When Bertie Wooster describes “Aunt calling aunt calling to aunt like mastodons bellowing across primeval swamps” you know you’re in the hands of a writer of comic English to rank alongside Wilde and Dickens. Which, come to think of it, may be why BBC 1′s effort on Sunday was just slightly disappointing: the irreplacable descriptive and narrative voice of Wodehouse himself was missing.
In his increasingly undignified rightward belly-crawl from the SWP, via Respect, into a sort of incoherent Labourite Stalinism whilst playing the role of tame anti-Trot witch-hunter for unspecified audiences, Andy Nooman at least provides some entertainment this festive season. I was about to say “harmless” entertainment, but his latest ranting on his ”Socialist Unity” blog, about the revolutionary left (in this case, the AWL/ Alliance for Workers Liberty) is, by his own account “a redacted version of something I wrote for another audience.” I wonder who that “other audience” might be?
Above: Stroppybird’s cat
Nooman’s sub-political tirade is avowedly based upon John Sullivan’s ‘When This Pub Closes’ which is poor stuff but at least evinces some political grasp of its subject(s). In fact, Nooman, whether he knows it or not, is more in the tradition of the rank Stalinist ignoramous Denver Walker’s student union-level, scummy little tome ‘Quite Right Mr Trotsky.’
Anyway, there is much to be enjoyed in Nooman’s bile against the revolutionary left and his grovelling to the Labour/TU bureaucracy, but sadly he doesn’t let us link to “Socialist Unity,” so you’ll have to use Google, or copy/paste socialistunity.com/the-alliance-for-workers-liberty-the-dynamics-of-a-malignant-cult/
The comments are most entertaining as well, including:
* 23. How inept do you have to be in order to pen a hatchet job that embarrasses yourself more than anybody else? - Patrick Smith
* 123. EDUCATION? DEMOCRACY? ACTIVITY? What a DISGRACE to the left. A disgrace to socialist countries/union leaders/students.
I’m really glad you’ve outed them about all that sexual impropriety.m Who needs facts when you’ve got pure conjecture? I bet they’re all a bunch of filthy deviants. Oh and yes, I heard that Sheffield was particularly bad too. Need castrating, the lot of them – RHuzzah
* 142. Until this article was posted I’d never heard of the AWL, and from reading all the heated posts about occult meetings sexual impropriety and filthy deviants I only have one question.
Where do I sign up? – CJB
* 161. Ok. John [John Wight, Nooman's antisemitic sidekick - JD] couldn’t care less about someone writing for this blog or its standing among people who used to advocate for it. Andy completely agrees with him. Egal.
A narrowing of vision accompanied by a growing climate of intolerance, abuse and bullying — I for one have seen this movie a couple of times before And know well the last reel.
So no song and dance, just ciao — bella – Kevin Ovenden [former Socialist Unity contributor - JD]
P.S: Check out the attacks on Yours Truly: Nooman can’t even get this attempt at “humour” right, and work out whether I’m Father Ted or Father Jack…
From People Management, (magazine of the The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development):
HR’s new best friend
Clive Dunn was one of the remaining stragglers from the war fighting generation.
Clive Robert Benjamin Dunn was born on January 9 1920 in London. He was educated at Sevenoaks, where he flirted with Fascism and joined the Black Shirts. He soon gave up the teenage political infatuation, however, and left school at 16 to try to find work in film. After failing to land a job as clapperboard boy, he attended the Italia Conti stage school in London, where he trained for his first stage part.
. . .
Called up in 1940, Dunn joined the 4th Hussars and was eventually posted to Greece. He spent months in the Greek countryside doing his best to avoid the enemy, but was eventually captured by a German patrol. Dunn remembered two weeks as a prisoner near Corinth with “thousands of starving and dysentery-ridden British, Indians and Palestinians”. He was then transported to Austria. “We were packed into cattle trucks like rotten sardines, smelly from diarrhoea and dysentery, with no food, one petrol can for water and one for use as a latrine.”
The journey took seven days. On arrival at the PoW camp the prisoners gave the guards a list of their civilian employment. Dunn remembered that after so long without food, 70 per cent of the 2,000 men claimed to have been butchers or cooks.
Update:- My family loved Dad’s Army but I didn’t find Clive Dunn’s Lance-Corporal Jones funny. His part was slapstick – running about with his bayonet while shouting “don’t panic”. I preferred the diffident public school Sergeant Walker saying to Captain Mainwaring’s latest daft idea, “Do you think that’s wise, Sir?” and the sly allusions at his relationship with Mrs Pike. My mother liked the gentle, daffy Godfrey and the spiv Walker. Kids at school said my dad looked like Private “we’re all doomed” Frazer. And of course we loved the English village cosiness – as exotic to us as the Beverley Hillbillies.
In black and white
(or: The Strange Case Of The Sleeping Policeman)
Pure comedy gold from Georgie Galloway and his Respect posse:
- The Guardian, Thursday 18 October 2012 22.10 BST
From today’s Graun:
By Helen Pidd
Even given his own talent for hyperbole, the claim George Galloway made on Sunday night was extraordinary: that he had discovered his secretary was working as an “agent” for a Metropolitan police counterterrorism officer who was running a “dirty tricks” campaign against him.
It was a serious allegation. “A direct attack on not just me but on democracy,” the MP said. He complained to the police, who promised an investigation, voluntarily referring the matter to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. And he wrote to Theresa May, the home secretary, demanding an inquiry, saying he had “incontrovertible evidence” that the duo had set up fake email addresses to spread “rumour, disinformation and downright lies”.
But Galloway’s now former secretary, Aisha Ali-Khan, is fighting back. She says she is married to Afiz Khan, whom Galloway correctly identified as a detective inspector in the Met’s counter-terrorism unit, SO15.
She says the two wed in a Muslim ceremony in 2009 and have had an on-off, hush-hush relationship ever since. She is furious that their relationship is being presented as somehow illicit.
“Not only have I lost my job and my credibility but I’ve been branded this tart sleeping with random police officers.”
Suspended on full pay but not expecting her job back, Ali-Khan has filed a complaint with the Met, accusing Galloway of either hacking into her private emails or ordering someone else to do so. She believes there can be no other explanation for how he was able to quote verbatim, in his letter to May, from emails she and her husband had written to each other. Galloway says he was given the emails by his lawyer.
Ali-Khan believes she has been “thrown to the wolves” because she was disliked by certain male figures in Bradford’s Respect party who wanted her out, and because Galloway wanted to deflect attention from a story about his personal life which he believed was about to hit the papers…
Read the rest of this wonderful story, here
Herbert Lom, actor. Born Herbert Karel Angelo Kuchačevič ze Schluderpacheru, 11 Sept 1917 (Prague); died 27 Sept 2012 (London).
Lom was one of the great character actors of post-war British cinema who rarely played leading roles but regularly stole the show from better-known stars. In his younger days especially, his saturnine good looks might have made him a matinée idol, but his strong accent (he was Czech-born) led to his being typecast as smooth, sinister foreign criminals and villains for most of his career. As he once commented, “In British eyes anyone foreign is slightly villainous.”
He fled his homeland as Hitler invaded, arriving in Britain in 1939 with his girlfriend Didi, who was Jewish. She was turned away at Dover for not having the correct papers. Her subsequent death (from starvation) in a concentration camp haunted Lom for the rest of his life.
Most of the obituaries have emphasised his role as Clouseau’s boss Drayfus in the various Pink Panther films, but to be honest these became less and less entertaining (something Lom was well aware of); even the best of the early ones cannot hold a candle to the funniest Ealing comedy of them all, The Ladykillers, in which Lom played his usual sinister role with a straight-faced menace that was in delicious contrast to the almost farcical antics going on around him. It was, Lom once said, “one of the few films I’m proud to have been associated with.”
He was (as far as I know) the last surviving member of the brilliant cast and production team that made this 1955 masterpiece.
(Graun obit: http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2012/sep/27/herbert-lom)