Politicians trying to sound like hep cats are always amusing. And as Anthony Blair Esq eventually found out, they usually end up looking like pillocks.
This is from today’s Times report on Hull winning City of Culture status for 2017:
“Yesterday’s announcement drew attention to the city’s long list of high achievers, although one of them reacted badly when named by David Cameron during Prime Minister’s Questions. Mr Cameron cited Hull’s ‘fantastic record’ in popular music. ‘I remember some years ago that great Hull Housemartins album London 0, Hull 4,’ he said.
“Paul Heaton, lead singer of the band, responded on Twitter: ‘When I took over my pub in Salford, the first people I banned were Cameron and Osborne. That ban still stands.’ He said that the Prime Minister ‘ruined my day’ and rebutted criticism that he had passed judgement without meeting Mr Cameron or the Chancellor. ‘You don’t need to smell s*** to know it stinks,’ he wrote
“Lord Prescott, the former Deputy Prime Minister who served as MP for Hull East for 30 years, responded jubilantly by referring to one of Mr Heaton’s songs. ‘It’s happy hour again!’ he said.”
Any excuse to run a clip of the great Mr Armstrong. This is from the 1936 Bing Crosby movie ‘Pennies From Heaven.’ Behind the masks the band includes Lionel Hampton on drums and Joe Sullivan on piano:
Scary, isn’t it?
Felix Dexter 26 July 1961 – 18 Oct 2013
Charlie Higson and Paul Whitehouse pay tribute here
Comrade Coatesy reports:
Marxists back Newman in Chippenham!
Above: the workers, peasants and intellectuals of Chippenham rally to Comrade Newman’s banner!
On the excellent Andy Newman For Chippenham blog Labour’s proud record is defended,
We should be very proud of what was achieved by the Labour government between 1997 and 2010.
The Labour government with Gordon Brown as Prime Minister, and Alistair Darling as Chancellor, had introduced a number of specific and targeted measures that boosted the economy.
Comrade Newman spent much of this time backing the Labour Party by supporting candidates of Respect and Socialist Unity.
He was Swindon spokesman for the Respect Party and, amongst other activities, invited George Galloway to speak at the town.
Newman ran the Socialist Unity site.
We say, phooey! and whatabout? to this past.
In a gesture of solidarity we announce our intention to campaign for Comrade Newman.
Chippenham Map for Socialist Canvassers.
Update: a bit tardy but worth waiting for, Andy Newman announces his candidacy on his own site.
The Wiltshire Daily Small Pig Breeder and the North Wiltshire Digital DJ, Alan Partridge Jnr, have given this extensive coverage.
The contest looks set to be a close run thing, with Labour scoring more than 6% in Chippenham at the last election.
Mel Smith has just died.
He was great in sketch shows and also in the more straight role of Colin in Colin’s Sandwich.
Some videos of him and the Not the Nine O’Clock News gang doing their spoof songs.
Gob On you (Punk)
I Like Trucking
Country and Western
Mel Smith, who has died at the age of 60, had a perfect face for comedy. Hangdog and irritable, Smith’s often had the demeanour of a man who had just been trapped in a lift for 12 hours with an angry bluebottle. His gift for comedy is rightly recognised, but a look at his 40-year career reveals a more versatile talent.
The son of a bookie, Smith was born in Chiswick in 1952 and attended Latymer Upper School and Oxford University where he became president of OUDS. At the Oxford Playhouse, he directed a production of The Tempest which led to his being hired by the Royal Court as an assistant director.
This was the Royal Court of the mid-Seventies, a tremendously fertile period when playwrights such as David Edgar and Caryl Churchill broke through. However, Smith’s career stalled after an unhappy spell at the Young Vic and he decided to take over his dad’s betting shop. Then he got a call from John Lloyd.
Lloyd had created a satirical sketch show, Not the Nine O’Clock News, with a short-but-already-troubled history. It was 1979 and, in a year of a General Election, the BBC had pulled the pilot episode because they feared it took too overtly political. Lloyd decided to recast the show, and that was when Smith was asked to join.
Smith’s performances throughout the series’s four-year run are uniformally good. He played it beautifully straight as the Hush Puppy-wearing professor who has reared a rather urbane gorilla called Gerald. He was also the terribly polite customer who wanted to buy a “gramophone”, enduring the derision of Rowan Atkinson’s shop assistant with a stiff-upper-lip decency.
Although these were only three-minute sketches, Smith had the talent to completely immerse himself in the characters he played and make them memorable.
Of course, Not the Nine O’Clock News also starred Smith’s long-term collaborator Griff Rhys Jones. The pair formed the TV production company Talkback (which they eventually sold for £62million) and created Alas Smith and Jones, another successful BBC comedy show. It became famous for the pair’s wonderful quasi-philosophical face-to-face dialogues, which were filmed in profile.
But aside from these hit series, Smith should also be praised for the now largely forgotten Colin’s Sandwich. In this 1988 sitcom he played Colin Watkins, a British Rail clerical worker who dreamed of becoming the next Stephen King. The series was peppered with long monologues which Smith delivered brilliantly in the style of Tony Hancock.
However Smith’s comedy appearances were fewer and further between after this, and he concentrated largely on directing. Although the results were variable, he directed the underrated The Tall Guy (1988), which featured a brilliantly awful pastiche of West End musicals called Elephant, about the life of John Merrick. A decade later, he stepped in to direct Bean (based on Rowan Atkinson’s extraordinarily successful TV show) when the original director was fired.
The last 15 years of his life saw a marked reduction in his output. He had become addicted to painkillers and was hospitalised with stomach ulcers.
His last appearance was in Stephen Poliakoff’s Dancing on the Edge earlier this year. (By a curious coincidence, his first TV role was in Poliakoff’s Bloody Kids in 1979.) Smith played Schlesinger, a jobsworth hotel manager bristling with hostility towards Louis Lester’s black jazz band.
It was a neat, perfectly judged performance and an indication of how, had he lived, Smith might have developed into a successful character actor as well as a deceptively talented comedian.
“True, broadcasters patronise (in every sense of the word) Mark Steel and Jeremy Hardy, who are genuine far-left comedians, even if they are a little too keen on becoming national treasures for my taste. But they ration the appearances of Stewart Lee, the best left-wing comedian. To their evident disapproval, Lee can be genuinely unsettling, and has never shown a desire to be any kind of treasure” - Nick Cohen, in Standpoint magazine.
Above: Stewart Lee at the Oxford Writing Festival
I’m not sure I agree with the following article by The Independent’s Nalalie Haynes, but as it’s in support of the admirable (and often very, very funny) Stewart Lee, I reproduce it below.
My doubts about Lee’s case (as reflected by Ms Haynes) is precisely the ‘Morcambe and Wise argument’ which (imho) Hayes fails to refute simply by contrasting ‘sketch’ comedians with ‘stand-ups.’ Is there really such a fundamental difference? ‘Sketch’ comedy can be just as personality-based as stand-up: what about Galton and Simpson’s scripts for Hancock and (then) for Harry H. Corbett and Wilfred Bramble in Steptoe & Son? Or Bob Hope, who (regardless of his reactionary politics) was a master of timing, pace and delivery, but never originated a gag in his life – apart, perhaps, for “I like to keep my wits about me.”
Anyway, here’s Natalie Haynes’ article:
Comedy is about sincerity as well as laughter
Stewart Lee has spent much of his career as the canary in comedy’s coalmine. He cares so much about his art – and comedy is an art, at least when it’s done properly – that he is super-sensitive to its ethical shifts.
A speech he delivered at an Oxford Writing Festival finally appeared on YouTube this week. In it, Lee compares comedians using writers to sports stars taking performance-enhancing drugs.
For decades, if not centuries, comic performance was everything. Comedy writers churned out endless notebooks filled with jokes, and sold them to performers who could make the lines zing in front of an audience. Then alternative comedy came along, and creative originality was prized above all else.
Comedians were proud of writing their own material, especially on subjects which didn’t seem to be obvious fuel. They wanted the right kind of laugh: one which rewarded audacity and originality as well as delivery.
Like so much of the alternative comedy legacy (political correctness being the most obvious other example) this passion for originality has gradually been lost. As the same few stand-ups dominate the TV schedules, their need for new material outweighs the rate at which anyone could write it. Add in a new tour show each year (which gobbles material and can generate millions of pounds), and it’s easy to see why comedians might hire writers.
Lee told his Oxford audience: “I like to think stand-up comedians who rely heavily on writers will one day be stripped of whatever artistic awards or financial rewards they received in their careers, like disgraced, drug-taking Tour De France cyclists”. But plenty of comics have pointed out that many of the greatest comedians –Morecambe and Wise, for a start – had writers working for them.
But the point Lee makes isn’t refuted by this argument. Morecambe and Wise were sketch comedians. No-one watched their show and thought they really shared a chaste bed, made breakfast each morning, then waited for Glenda Jackson to come round dressed as Cleopatra.
Stand-up is an altogether trickier proposition. Sure, some comics deliver jokes which reveal almost nothing about themselves. But plenty more are selling a personality. The acts which Lee singled out (among them Jack Whitehall, Michael McIntyre) are offering up a version of themselves.
Perhaps it is only a naive punter who believes a stage persona is more than it appears, when the reality is that a comedian no more reveals their real character on stage than an actor playing Hamlet. But like Lee, I miss those comics who offer sincerity as well as laughter. Perhaps the answer is to turn off the TV and go to a comedy club instead.
Roger McCarthy recommends this and comments:
“(A) superb takedown of anti-establishment satire from novelist Jonathan Coe
“Particularly love the quotes from Peter Cook in Beyond the Fringe ‘Oh my goodness four minutes warning doesn’t seem a very long time but ‘I’d remind those doubters that some people in this great country of ours can run a mile in four minutes’
“And ‘when opening his club, The Establishment, in Soho in 1961, Cook remarked that he was modelling it on ‘those wonderful Berlin cabarets which did so much to stop the rise of Hitler and prevent the outbreak of the Second World War”.’
Above: the civil defence sketch from Beyond The Fringe
By Jonathan Coe (London Review of Books)
In 1956, James Sutherland, a professor of 18th-century literature, delivered the Clark Lectures at Trinity College, Cambridge on the subject of ‘English satire’. ‘In recent years,’ he announced, ‘there have been signs of an increased interest in satirical writing,’ but even he couldn’t have seen what was about to start unfolding in a year or two, on his very doorstep. Beyond the Fringe is routinely credited with starting the ‘satire boom’, but that accolade should really go to The Last Laugh, the 1959 Cambridge Footlights revue, directed and largely devised by John Bird. CND was just beginning to gather momentum and the show opened with a huge nuclear explosion, following which, in the words of the producer William Donaldson, the audience was treated to a whole evening’s worth of ‘terrible gloomy stuff – the punchline of every sketch was people dying.’ Nonetheless, it was undoubtedly a strong influence on Peter Cook (one of the original cast members) and the other three-quarters of the Beyond the Fringe team (Alan Bennett, Jonathan Miller and Dudley Moore), who would go on to present their own take on the nuclear threat, in a sketch called ‘Civil War’.
In that sketch, a worried Moore listens trustingly as a succession of posh-voiced government spokesmen seek to reassure him that all the appropriate measures are in place in the event of a nuclear attack. When he voices disbelief that a four-minute warning would be enough, and Cook drawlingly retorts, ‘I’d remind those doubters that some people in this great country of ours can run a mile in four minutes,’ the satire actually bites. It was certainly one of the most scathing and well-targeted sketches in Beyond the Fringe. Otherwise, if this truly represented the first high point of the ‘satire boom’, the tensions and contradictions inherent in the movement were already visible. Miller’s long-winded monologue about trousers, ‘The Heat Death of the Universe’, is a flight of whimsical fantasy which reminds us that it was fashionable, at that time, to admire N.F. Simpson and his theatre of the suburban absurd. Cook’s ‘Sitting on a Bench’, in which a delusional tramp informs the audience, in a glazed monotone, that he ‘could have been a judge if he’d had the Latin’, is Beckettian in its bleakness and oddity. Altogether, the subjects of each sketch are so various, and the collective point of view is so moveable, that one can pin it down no more closely than by calling it ‘anti-establishment’. Michael Frayn may have excoriated that phrase – in his brief, brilliant introduction to the published text, Beyond the Fringe, in 1963 – as denoting ‘a spacious vacancy of thought’, but really, I don’t see how we can do any better. Any real ‘establishment’ is impossible to define (this being a principal source of its power and durability), but as far as the Fringers were concerned the British version circa 1960 seems to have included at least the Church of England, the army, the government, the judiciary, the public schools and the class system, all of which were held up as worthy of incredulous laughter. And so, in discussing the movement that Beyond the Fringe helped to kick off, perhaps it would be better not to talk of satire (satire being only one of its ingredients) but ‘anti-establishment comedy’. Another thing worth remembering is that practically every one of its leading figures had been to Oxford or Cambridge and could, therefore, be seen to have at least a foothold in the establishment they were criticising: in the words of Cook’s biographer, Harry Thompson, these were not rebellious outsiders but ‘young men questioning a system they had been trained to lead’ and laughing at ‘the society that had reared them’.
The four cast members of Beyond the Fringe soon decamped to New York, where the revue achieved even longer-running success on Broadway than it had in the West End, and were out of the country by the time the BBC discovered anti-establishment comedy and gave it a national platform in the shape of That Was the Week That Was, which first aired on 24 November 1962, presented by David Frost. With the cancelling of that show little more than a year later, ostensibly on the grounds that it interfered with the BBC’s duty of impartiality in the run-up to the 1964 election, the heyday of anti-establishment comedy was already over. Yet its influence on British radio and television has never died out completely. There was never much social comment in Monty Python (until they made Life of Brian), but the (Oxbridge-educated) Not the Nine O’Clock News team at the beginning of the 1980s sometimes aimed for satire, and Armando Iannucci (University College, Oxford) has blazed such a trail through broadcast comedy in recent years that no one would begrudge him the OBE he recently accepted from the establishment he has worked so hard to undermine. Meanwhile, on Have I Got News for You and The News Quiz respectively, Ian Hislop (Ardingly, Magdalen) and old Harrovian Francis Wheen tirelessly carry on the work that the Beyond the Fringe team started more than half a century ago.
When Have I Got News for You moved to BBC One more than a decade ago it began to lose some of its teeth: so much so, after a while, that one regular panellist, Will Self, announced he would no longer be taking part. At its erratic best, however, it remains a worthwhile show. In fact the Guardian columnist Martin Kettle went so far a couple of years ago as to call Ian Hislop, on the basis of his weekly appearances there, ‘the single most influential voice in modern British politics’. He was not paying a straightforward compliment. ‘Week in and week out’, his message ‘is that pretty much all politicians are corrupt, deluded, incompetent, second-rate and hypocritical’. This message, Kettle said, is delivered with ‘enviable deftness and wit’, but it is also ‘extremely repetitive’. Steve Fielding, an academic, went further and argued in 2011 that in accepting this view of politicians as uniformly corrupt and useless, the public are embracing a dangerous new stereotype, since it ‘can only further reinforce mistrust in the public realm, a mistrust that some political forces seek to exploit’. ‘Comedy,’ he continued, ‘has always relied on stereotypes. There was a time when the Irish were thick; the Scots were careful with money; mothers-in-law fierce and ugly; and the Welsh stole and shagged sheep. The corrupt politician is one such stereotype, one that is neither racist nor sexist and seemingly acceptable to all.’ The idea that politicians are morally inferior to the rest of us is ‘a convenient view, for it means we, the audience, the voters, are not to blame for anything: we are not to blame because we are the victims of a politics gone wrong.’
Fielding’s remarks were eloquent and timely; but it is remarkable how fully they were anticipated by Frayn in 1963. Even then – in the very year of That Was the Week That Was – Frayn was using the same analogy, and could see, just as clearly, how anti-establishment comedy was letting its audience off the hook: ‘To go on mocking the Establishment,’ he wrote, ‘has more and more meant making the audience laugh not at themselves at all, but at a standard target which is rapidly becoming as well-established as mothers-in-law. To do this is not to undermine but to confirm the audience’s prejudices, and has less in common with satire than with community hymn-singing – agreeable and heartwarming as that may be.’ And Frayn, indeed, was echoing what James Sutherland had pointed out seven years earlier when he said that ‘certain kinds of satirical writing (political satire is a good example) are not normally intended to convert one’s opponents, but to gratify and fortify one’s friends.’ Or perhaps we should give the final, gloomiest word on this subject to William Cowper, writing in 1785:
Yet what can satire, whether grave or gay? … What vice has it subdued? whose heart reclaimed By rigour, or whom laughed into reform? Alas! Leviathan is not so tamed.
Despite all this, it always seems that successive generations of entertainers, bent on laughing people out of their follies and vices, remain optimistic about the power of anti-establishment comedy at the outset of their careers: it’s only later that reality kicks in. When Humphrey Carpenter interviewed the leading lights of the 1960s satire boom for his book That Was Satire, That Was in the late 1990s, he found that what was once youthful enthusiasm had by now curdled into disillusionment. One by one, they expressed dismay at the culture of facetious cynicism their work had spawned, their complaints coalescing into a dismal litany of regret. John Bird: ‘Everything is a branch of comedy now. Everybody is a comedian. Everything is subversive. And I find that very tiresome.’ Barry Humphries: ‘Everyone is being satirical, everything is a send-up. There’s an infuriating frivolity, cynicism and finally a vacuousness.’ Christopher Booker: ‘Peter Cook once said, back in the 1960s, “Britain is in danger of sinking giggling into the sea,” and I think we really are doing that now.’
The key word here is ‘giggling’ (or in some versions of the quotation, ‘sniggering’). Of the four Beyond the Fringe members, it’s always Peter Cook who is described as the comic genius, and like any genius he fully (if not always consciously) understood the limitations of his own medium. He understood laughter, in other words – and certainly understood that it is anything but a force for change. Famously, when opening his club, The Establishment, in Soho in 1961, Cook remarked that he was modelling it on ‘those wonderful Berlin cabarets which did so much to stop the rise of Hitler and prevent the outbreak of the Second World War’. And his comment about giggling (or sniggering) as we sink beneath the sea was developed in a Beyond the Fringe sketch called ‘The Sadder and Wiser Beaver’, about a bunch of young, would-be radical journalists who won’t admit they have sold their soul to a rapacious newspaper proprietor:
COOK: Whenever the old man has a cocktail party, there’s about ten of us – young, progressive people – we all gather up the far end of the room and … quite openly, behind our hands, we snigger at him.
BENNETT: Well, I don’t know, that doesn’t seem very much to me.
COOK: A snigger here, a snigger there – it all adds up.
The sketch makes it clear that laughter is not just ineffectual as a form of protest, but that it actually replaces protest – a point also developed by Frayn in his introduction. Ruminating on where the sudden public appetite for satire might have come from, he wrote:
Conceivably the demand arose because after ten years of stable Conservative government, with no prospect in 1961 of its ever ending, the middle classes felt some vague guilt accumulating for the discrepancy between their prosperous security and the continuing misery of those who persisted in failing to conform, by being black, or queer, or mad, or old. Conceivably they felt the need to disclaim with laughter any responsibility for this situation, and so relieve their consciences without actually voting for anything which might have reduced their privileges.
If anti-establishment comedy allows the public to ‘disclaim with laughter’ any responsibility for injustice, the sticking point is not really satire itself (for satire can take the gravest of forms) but laughter (or ‘sniggering’, to use Peter Cook’s term) in the face of political problems. Have I Got News for You presents thousands of practical demonstrations of this, so let’s look at just one of them, from the edition of 24 April 1998. It was Boris Johnson’s first appearance as a guest on the programme,5 and Ian Hislop was tormenting him on the subject of his notorious phone call with Darius Guppy, when they are alleged to have discussed the possibility of beating up an unfriendly journalist. Hislop was doing what he does best, remaining genial but suddenly toning down the humour and confronting the guest with chapter and verse for a past misdemeanour. As the exchange develops, Johnson looks distinctly uncomfortable, describing Hislop’s intervention as ‘richly comic’ and protesting: ‘I don’t want to be totally stitched up here.’ He calls Guppy a ‘great chap’, to which Hislop answers: ‘And a convicted fraudster.’ Johnson concedes this, and admits that Guppy made a ‘major goof’, and then begins to ramble and bumble in his characteristic way, groping for a way out of the corner; sensing, visibly, that Hislop has got him on the ropes, he mentions some of the other things that he and Guppy discussed during that conversation, including their military heroes. And suddenly, Paul Merton interjects with the line: ‘Hence Major Goof that you mentioned just now.’
It’s a lovely joke, which gets a terrific laugh and a round of applause. But its effect on the exchange is noticeable. An uncomfortable situation is suddenly defused: Johnson relaxes, the audience laughter gives him room to breathe and gather his thoughts. When he next speaks he is back on track, and says winningly: ‘Since you choose to bring up this unhappy episode I won’t deny a word of it. I’m not ashamed of it’ – and off he goes, into one of those endearing, self-deprecatory apologies of which he is now, 15 years later, a consummate master. Read the rest of this entry »
Reblogged from Tendance Coatsey:
Galloway for London Mayor: “Real Labour versus a Transvestite.”
George Galloway has announced on Russia Today (where else?) that he intends to fight Boris Johnson for the job of Mayor of London, despite the present incumbent already insisting he will not stand for a third term.
The Respect MP for Bradford West said he had a team of people looking into the idea.
More on the Huffington Post.
He has also said,
“Labour, I understand, is contemplating selecting a transvestite comedian, Eddie Izzard, which would also be an interesting contest. Real Labour versus a transvestite.”
There is, as yet, no word on the Respect Party website on this important battle.
But the International Business Times cites Galloway’s first ideas,
Galloway said it was too early to discuss any specific policies but insisted that alongside his ‘real Labour’ stance: “I would also have an internationalist relationship – ensuring for example that London has a relationship with China, giving China a base in the West.
“China doesn’t have that because many countries fear them but London doesn’t fear them. I’d want Chinese investment as a basis [for my policies].”
We learn that Galloway has just backtracked on this significant initiative – Here.
But a spokesman (that is, not the man himself) for Mr Galloway yesterday told the Telegraph & Argus it was a “not-too-serious response to a rather facetious question”.
“George is committed to Bradford, to fighting the seat in 2014, helping the Bradford East candidate (not yet selected) defeat David Ward, and in the meantime assisting in getting a serious number of councillors elected in 2014 to be the official opposition and holding the balance of power,” he added.
Bradford West Labour councillor Shakeela Lal added: “He’s only been an MP here just over a year but already George Galloway’s bored of Bradford and looking for his next challenge. He’s more interested in running for Mayor of London than standing up for his constituents.”
“We hardly ever see Mr Galloway in Bradford anyway so this hardly comes as a surprise.”
Ilkley Conservative MP Kris Hopkins said: “To be fair to George, the London Mayoral election is not due to held until 2016, the year after the next General Election.
“A lot could happen between now and then and, knowing George, it probably will.”
Tom Sharpe, comic novelist, born March 30 1928, died June 6 2013
Tom “PG Wodehouse on Acid“ Sharpe, who died today, was the laugh-out-loud author of farce-cum-satire, probably best known for his ‘Wilt’ books about further education and ‘Porterhouse Blue’ set in an Cambridge College. But he was also a savagely witty critic of apartheid in South Africa, where he lived and was politically active in a low-key sort of way (as a social worker) between 1951 and 1961, when he was deported.
He excoriated white South African racism, arrogance and stupidity in two wonderful books, ‘Riotous Assembly’ (1971) and ‘Indecent Exposure’ (1973). Here’s a little taster for you:
Riotous Assembly (excerpt from Chapter 2)
Miss Hazelstone was telephoning to report that she had just shot her Zulu cook. Konstabel Els was perfectly capable of handling the matter. He had in his time as a police officer shot any number of Zulu cooks. Besides there was a regular procedure for dealing with such reports. Konstabel Els went into the routine.
‘You wish to report the death of a kaffir,’ he began.
‘I have just murdered my Zulu cook,’ snapped Miss Hazelstone.
Els was placatory. ‘That’s what I said. You wish to report the death of a coon.’
‘I wish to do nothing of the sort. I told you I have just murdered Fivepence.’
Els tried again. ‘The loss of a few coins doesn’t count as murder.’
‘Fivepence was my cook.’
‘Killing a cook doesn’t count as murder either.’
‘What does it count as, then?’ Miss Hazelstone’s confidence in her own guilt was beginning to wilt under Konstabel Els’ favourable diagnosis of the situation.
‘Killing a white cook can be murder. It’s unlikely but it can be. Killing a black cook can’t. Not under any circumstances. Killing a black cook comes under self-defence, justifiable homicide or garbage disposal.’ Els permitted himself a giggle. ‘Have you tried the Health Department?’ he inquired.
It was obvious to the Kommandant that Els had lost what little sense of social deference he had ever possessed. He pushed Els aside and took the call himself.
‘Kommandant van Heerden here,’ he said. ‘I understand that there has been a slight accident with your cook.’
Miss Hazelstone was adamant. ‘I have just murdered my Zulu cook.’
Kommandant van Heerden ignored the self-accusation. ‘The body is in the house?’ he inquired.
‘The body is on the lawn,’ said Miss Hazelstone. The Kommandant sighed. It was always the same. Why couldn’t people shoot blacks inside their houses where they were supposed to shoot them?
‘I will be up at Jacaranda House in forty minutes,’ he said, ‘and when I arrive I will find the body in the house.’
‘You won’t,’ Miss Hazelstone insisted, ‘you’ll find it on the back lawn.’
Kommandant van Heerden tried again.
‘When I arrive the body will be in the house.’ He said it very slowly this time.
Miss Hazelstone was not impressed. ‘Are you suggesting that I move the body?’ she asked angrily.
The Kommandant was appalled at the suggestion. ‘Certainly not,’ he said. ‘I have no wish to put you to any inconvenience and besides there might be fingerprints. You can get the servants to move it for you.’
There was a pause while Miss Hazelstone considered the implications of this remark. ‘It sounds to me as though you are suggesting that I should tamper with the evidence of a crime,’ she said slowly and menacingly. ‘It sounds to me as though you are trying to get me to interfere with the course of justice.’
‘Madam,’ interrupted the Kommandant, ‘I am merely trying to help you to obey the law.’ He paused, groping for words. ‘The law says that it is a crime to shoot kaffirs outside your house. But the law also says it is perfectly permissible and proper to shoot them inside your house if they have entered illegally.’
‘Fivepence was my cook and had every legal right to enter the house.’
‘I’m afraid you’re wrong there,’ Kommandant van Heerden went on. ‘Your house is a white area and no kaffir is entitled to enter a white area without permission. By shooting your cook you were refusing him permission to enter your house. I think it is safe to assume that.’
There was a silence at the other end of the line. Miss Hazelstone was evidently convinced.
‘I’ll be up in forty minutes,’ continued van Heerden, adding hopefully, ‘and I trust the body-’
‘You’ll be up here in five minutes and Fivepence will be on the lawn where I shot him,’ snarled Miss Hazelstone and slammed down the phone.
The Kommandant looked at the receiver and sighed. He put it down wearily and turning to Konstabel Els he ordered his car.
As they drove up the hill to Jacaranda Park, Kommandant van Heerden knew he was faced with a difficult case. He studied the back of Konstabel Els’ head and found some consolation in its shape and colour.
If the worst came to the worst he could always make use of Els’ great gift of incompetence and if in spite of all his efforts to prevent it. Miss Hazelstone insisted on being tried for murder, she would have as the chief prosecution witness against her, befuddled and besotted, Konstabel Els. If nothing else could save her, if she pleaded guilty in open court, if she signed confession after confession, Konstabel Els under cross-examination by no matter how half-witted a defence attorney would convince the most biased jury or the most inflexible judge that she was the innocent victim of police incompetence and unbridled perjury. The State Attorney was known to have referred to Konstabel Els in the witness box as the Instant Alibi.
Telegraph obit here …
and the Graun‘s here
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.”
[See his Wikipedia entry and Jeremy Mazner's Tom Lehrer: The Political Musician That Wasn't]
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:
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