Many of my posts contain the immortal phrase ‘when I was much younger’. It is a singular truth that youth is wasted upon the young, but I regret nothing done when much younger than I am today.
My comedy heroes were real people, real because they were flawed as most humans are, but they overcame those flaws to delight their audiences. Men such as Tony Hancock, whose ability to speak his scripts and pass on the ability of the writers, was itself a work of near genius. A man who could say the words “Does Magna Carta mean nothing to you? Did she die in vain? Brave Hungarian peasant girl who forced King John to sign the pledge at Runnymede and close the boozers at half past ten! Is all this to be forgotten?” and have the audience rolling in the aisles with laughter. A man who could play the part of a self-important no-body who had volunteered to be a blood donor; suffered the pin-prick of the sample needle, but upon being told that that was not the donation, but was to be the pint of his blood. His reply went down into comedy history as “A pint. That’s nearly an armful!”
Most younger ATW readers will not have heard of the Goon Show, but for some nine-odd years, from 1951 to 1960, it was the top-rated comedy show broadcast by the BBC. Some of the phrases invented by the stars of that show have entered the English language. Have you ever heard anyone ever complain “I’ve come down with a bad case of Lurgi”? Everyone understands exactly what he has, which is probably a dose of ‘Flu, or a virus infection; but the ‘Lurgi’ was invented and first broadcast by the Goons somewhere around 1955. The Goons also scored the first truly political broadcast ‘bullseye’ when there was some political furore based around Churchill allegedly ordering Field Marshal Montgomery, by telegram, to store the surrendered German weaponry carefully after the end of the War, as the Germans might have to be re-armed to fight against a Russia determined to rule Poland. The Labour Party whipped up some rumours about how the Prime Minister had been ready to use German soldiers against Russian forces, and there was quite a search for the telegram. In the Goon’s broadcast, a cast member asks, “Who is that short, fat man underneath the table?” Peter Sellers, who was well known for his ability to mimic other people’s voices, replied in a perfect rendition of Churchill’s tones, “Looking for that blasted telegram!”. The BBC actually apologised to Churchill.
A simple but strange commentary upon the way we, as a nation, were entertained is the truth that not one, not a single comedy show, in those distant days of, perhaps a more gentle time, ever featured, if that is the correct term, any swearing, any obscenities, any references to people’s sexuality; and still we laughed, and enjoyed those shows; but perhaps these times reflect a harder truth about how we have been subverted by liberal philosophies!