A limerick a week #177

Parody, litotes and satire

I was too young to be allowed to watch the first series of Monty Python’s Flying Circus when it aired on TV, but I did catch the second and subsequent series.

There was a lot that was pretty average in most of the episodes and I’m convinced that they are now viewed as ground-breaking not because they were laugh-a-minute shows, but because of the open-ended and nonsensical nature of the sketches and the ease with which the occasional really funny parts could be repeated ad nauseum by schoolkids in the country’s playgrounds.

And now Terry Jones has died, becoming the second of the Pythons to have “shuffled off ‘is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible”.

Terry Jones, the naked organ-meister

Subsequent to the Flying Circus series, Jones’ Ripping Yarns productions (co-written with Michael Palin) were, and remain, a joy to watch and, as an amateur historian, he successfully challenge orthodoxy, writing, for example, about the medieval era that:

A lot of what we assume to be medieval ignorance is, in fact, our own ignorance about the medieval world.

Jones’ Hidden History

He also got to voice the best ever line in any of the Python productions…

better than: It’s only a wafer-thin mint, sir…

better than: Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!

better than: Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government.

and even better than: PININ’ for the FJORDS?!?!?!? What kind of talk is that?

’tis simply this: He’s not the Messiah – he’s a very naughty boy.

And here’s the limerick:

There once was a man so imbued
With humour that verged on the lewd
That he took of his clothes
And sat in repose
And played on his organ when nude!


A limerick a week #110

Postman Pat and the effervescent tablet

My last post hinted at a family connection with John Cunliffe, the author of the Postman Pat and Rosie & Jim series, who died recently. The connection was that for several years he, John-the-teacher, taught alongside my mother (‘The Matriarch’) at Castle Park Primary School in Kendal. He was already a published children’s author and started his Postman Pat stories while still teaching at the school.

John Cunliffe, whose gentle tales were commemorated in the Graun’s obituary of him with these words: “Kindness and generosity, together with selflessness and community spirit, were virtues worth celebrating in the autumn of 1981 as the prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, entered her second year in office.” ‘Amen’ to that!

‘Tis a little-known fact that one of his book titles, a book of poems for children, was actually inspired by the Matriarch. She had been on dinner duty at the school one day when one of the children responsible for serving at a table (John-the-pupil) let drop a strawberry from one of the dessert dishes. Having seen it fall, and concerned that the poor lad might slip on it, the Matriarch yelled: “John, you’re standing on a strawberry!”.

On looking around afterwards, she saw John-the-teacher slip-sliding down his seat at the staff’s dinner table in a fit of laughter at what he’d just heard. I don’t know if John-the-pupil realised it at the time, or whether he ever knew, but his runaway strawberry and the Matriarch’s yell inspired this:

With its titular poem, that started:

‘You’re standing on a strawberry,
I heard the teacher say.
It was an end-of-term school dinner
and we’d had strawberries that day.
‘You’re standing on a strawberry,
and it isn’t very good,
to put your great big feet,
on what’s left of someone’s pud!’ 

On another occasion, John advised the Matriarch to take mega-doses of vitamin C to ward off the colds that the school’s pupils invariably passed on to their teachers. Boots the Chemist’s 1000mg vitamin C tablets were the order of the day and, dutifully, the Matriarch bought a packet and, without reading the label, immediately popped one into her mouth.

It was effervescent! Now, in a small town like Kendal, teachers often meet parents of their pupils in the high street and this day was no different. Not wishing to froth visibly, she kept her mouth shut and nodded at parents who wished to stop and chat – whilst swallowing furiously. When she told John he once more laughed hysterically and, later in the afternoon, he sent one of his pupils through to her classroom with a note for her. Here it is:

Some months later, when John asked if she still had the note, it wasn’t immediately to hand otherwise it may have comprised a verse and the epitaph of yet another anthology of his poems.

Here’s my take on it

‘Twas the author of ‘Pat’ who confessed
That vitamin C was the best
Cure for colds,
But the story unfolds
Of a teacher who then effervesced!

A limerick a week #65

How likely is that?

So, Basil Brush’s old mucker, Mr Rodney, is no more. Best known as Bob Ferris, one of TV’s Likely Lads of the 1960s and 70s, Rodney Bewes’ post-peak public utterances made him seem a rather bitter person.

Bewes and Basil

Perhaps this was due to his struggle then to get the rôles he felt he deserved, or possibly he was envious of the fact that James Bolam playing Terry Collier, the other Likely Lad, went on to an acting career that entirely eclipsed that of his own.

Subsequently, Bewes seemed to go on and on about a ‘falling out’ with Bolam and that he longed for The Likely Lads to be updated as their characters aged. Perhaps fewer ‘heart-on-sleeve’ interviews would have been less of an irritant to Bolam who might, just might, have then been more receptive to the idea (though I doubt it).

‘Bob’ and ‘Terry’ in the early days

Whereas Bolam and Bewes were the principal stars of both incarnations of The Likely Lads, they were more than matched by the actress Brigit Forsyth playing Bewes long-suffering, but spiky wife, Thelma, in the 1970s productions. I also think that Sheila Fearn playing Audrey, Terry’s sister, is too often overlooked for the part that she played in the series.

‘Thelma’ as played brilliantly by Brigit Forsyth

And I do also recall Anita Carey in her few appearances as Susan, Thelma’s sister. Along with Judi Bowker, Stacy Dorning and, of course, Jenny Agutter, she was one of the 1970s actresses that remain etched in the memory of schoolboy day-dreams!

Here’s the limerick …

The rift with his old mate was sad
And he envied the success that he’d had
So despite what we know
Of the eponymous show
He was really an Unlikely Lad.

Day-dreaming again!

A limerick a week #43

Fade to black …

Yet another limerick-as-eulogy. That’s three in fairly quick succession; a bit worrying!

Anyway, for UK moviegoers during the 70s, 80s and 90s there was really only one credible film critic on TV. That was, of course, the recently deceased Barry Norman who solo presented the BBC’s review show from its inception as Film 72 through to his end credit on Film 98. (Clapperboard, hosted by Chris Kelly and aimed at children, was not a direct challenger to the primacy of Bazza’s show).

Norman was always fair in his reviews even if he personally disliked the actor whose film he was discussing, but I’m not so sure he was as well-balanced when he was utterly captivated by one. There was a fair number of the former with whom he went toe to toe, stars such as Charlton Heston, Robert De Niro, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis; at least one of whom he walked out on after being made to wait interminably (Madonna); and another, an inebriated John Wayne, who apparently called him a “goddamn pinko liberal f****t” for laughing aloud at him during an interview in which Wayne called for the US to consider bombing Russia as a reaction to the Vietnam war.

In truth Norman rarely appeared starstruck, although he did have a bit of a love-in with Tom Cruise and was wholly beguiled by Michelle Pfeiffer. I can still recall his reaction to her flirtations during a Film 92 Special and it’s hard to believe his protestations that he didn’t really have a crush on her (his wife appeared not to believe him either). It was just so funny to watch him almost drool as he interviewed her.

Michelle sings “Makin’ whoopee”, Bazza thinks “If only …”

And so to his tag line. Although his doppelgänger on the satirical puppet show Spitting Image often referenced his supposed catchphrase “… and why not?“, Norman himself credited the impressionist Rory Bremner with conceiving it and, although it was not his creation, and something of a myth that he regularly used it, he did later borrow it as the title of his autobiography.

Anyway, both Michelle P and his catchphrase inspired this week’s limerick:

Michelle made you blush on the spot
When it seemed that you’d quite lost the plot.
‘Twas not hard to decipher
Your thoughts on Ms Pfeiffer,
But as you said once yourself: “And why not!”


A limerick a week #36

“Goodbye, Mr Bond”
(Ernst Stavro Blofeld)

I’ve not penned a limerick-as-eulogy for a while, but the life of Bond actor Roger Moore deserves comment. He died at the grand old age of 89 and the obituaries that have poured forth have been uniformly warm and gracious in respect of the fundamental decency of the man.

He was always humerous and self-deprecating in interviews, something that was not a PR affectation, but, judging from the many personal reminiscences of the public, it was both genuine and borne of the belief that he had been extremely lucky in his life.

Personally, I think he passed muster as Simon Templar in The Saint and as Lord Brett Sinclair opposite Tony Curtis in The Persuaders more than he did as James Bond (I’m in the miniscule minority that thinks Timothy Dalton was and remains the best Bond). Nevertheless, as a Bond he remains an icon.

So here is my erstwhile homily:

St Peter may think that it’s quaint,
(But, then again, maybe it ain’t),
That double-oh-seven
(A ‘Bond’ now in Heaven)
Was already known as a Saint!

Postscript: Various newspapers have printed a number of the public’s reminiscences of meeting the man behind the raised eyebrow. Today’s online edition of The Independent printed the following anecdote (long but well worth reading) under the headline:

Roger Moore dead: This anecdote about the James Bond actor just keeps getting better as you read

‘What a man. What a tremendous man.’

“Sir Roger Moore died at the age of 89 yesterday, and tributes have poured in for the kind and benevolent James Bond star from friends, family and fellow actors.

None sum up his gentleness and good humour quite as perfectly as this anecdote from Mark Haynes however, a scriptwriter from London who had a chance meeting with Moore at an airport when he was seven.

“As a seven-year-old in about 1983, in the days before First Class Lounges at airports, I was with my grandad in Nice Airport and saw Roger Moore sitting at the departure gate, reading a paper. I told my granddad I’d just seen James Bond and asked if we could go over so I could get his autograph. My grandad had no idea who James Bond or Roger Moore were, so we walked over and he popped me in front of Roger Moore, with the words “my grandson says you’re famous. Can you sign this?”

As charming as you’d expect, Roger asks my name and duly signs the back of my plane ticket, a fulsome note full of best wishes. I’m ecstatic, but as we head back to our seats, I glance down at the signature. It’s hard to decipher it but it definitely doesn’t say ‘James Bond’. My grandad looks at it, half figures out it says ‘Roger Moore’ – I have absolutely no idea who that is, and my hearts sinks. I tell my grandad he’s signed it wrong, that he’s put someone else’s name – so my grandad heads back to Roger Moore, holding the ticket which he’s only just signed.

I remember staying by our seats and my grandad saying “he says you’ve signed the wrong name. He says your name is James Bond.” Roger Moore’s face crinkled up with realisation and he beckoned me over. When I was by his knee, he leant over, looked from side to side, raised an eyebrow and in a hushed voice said to me, “I have to sign my name as ‘Roger Moore’ because otherwise…Blofeld might find out I was here.” He asked me not to tell anyone that I’d just seen James Bond, and he thanked me for keeping his secret. I went back to our seats, my nerves absolutely jangling with delight. My grandad asked me if he’d signed ‘James Bond.’ No, I said. I’d got it wrong. I was working with James Bond now.

Many, many years later, I was working as a scriptwriter on a recording that involved UNICEF, and Roger Moore was doing a piece to camera as an ambassador. He was completely lovely and while the cameramen were setting up, I told him in passing the story of when I met him in Nice Airport. He was happy to hear it, and he had a chuckle and said “Well, I don’t remember but I’m glad you got to meet James Bond.” So that was lovely.

And then he did something so brilliant. After the filming, he walked past me in the corridor, heading out to his car – but as he got level, he paused, looked both ways, raised an eyebrow and in a hushed voice said, “Of course I remember our meeting in Nice. But I didn’t say anything in there, because those cameramen – any one of them could be working for Blofeld.”

I was as delighted at 30 as I had been at 7. What a man. What a tremendous man.”

… Cuthbert, Dibble and Grubb.

Well, he had a good innings. Gordon Murray the creator of the stop-motion Trumptonshire Trilogy has died at the age of 95. Some favoured Camberwick Green – I don’t think Chigley was as popular – but for me the stand-out series was Trumpton. Perhaps it was Captain Flack’s weekly recital (Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble and Grubb) that called out his firemen to an emergency that seemed never to involve flames, or even smoke, that stuck in the mind. Or maybe it was the announcement at the start of the show that presaged the storyline for that episode:

Here is a box, a musical box,
wound up and ready to play.
But this box can hide a secret inside.
Can you guess what is in it today?

Dramatic goings-on in Trumpton
Dramatic goings-on in Trumpton

Either way, Murray’s were innocent stories for innocent minds, governed by his wish for children to have a joyful childhood (as quoted in the Graun’s obituary):

I am very upset, because I’m an old man now, at the short length of childhood that children have. They don’t have childhood for long and I think that’s a wicked shame, because childhood is the most marvellous thing you’ve got to remember for the rest of your life.

‘Amen’ to that. Here’s my tuppence worth:

You painted a bucolic scene
With your stories of Camberwick Green,
But with Pugh, Pugh
And Barney McGrew
It was Trumpton that lit up the screen.

“I thought Coq au Vin was love in a lorry”

… and now Victoria Wood has gone too; the comedian that penned the one-liner that passes for the title of this posting has died. There has been a heavy toll taken of performers recently, but, for me, hers is the most egregious loss. Too soon and too young. A genuine laugh-out-loud writer and a comedian that could turn her hand to serious drama. I would rank her wordsmithing, her comedic delivery and her characterisations (both serious and humorous) alongside that of Ronnie Barker. I don’t often rate the Daily Telegraph’s opinion highly, but it got it right in her case, “She made the mundane seem magical”.

Sometimes I’ll write a limerick in my own trivial way to mark the passing of a celebrity, just to amuse myself, but not on this occasion. Instead, I’ll be amused by a few phrases of hers taken from ‘The ballad of Barry and Freda’ (aka ‘Just do it’) on the unsated desires of a late-middle-age, libidinous housewife:

Some lines from Freda:

I’m on fire, with desire — I could handle half the tenors in a male voice choir

This folly is jolly; bend me over backwards on me hostess trolley!

Get drastic, gymnastic — wear your baggy Y-fronts with the loose elastic

No cautions, just contortions: smear an avocado on my lower portions!

Be mighty, be flighty, come and melt the buttons on my flame-proof nightie!

Not bleakly, not meekly — beat me on the bottom with the Woman’s Weekly

And some replies from a very reluctant Barry:

No derision, my decision: I’d rather watch the Spinners on the television.

I’m imploring — I’m boring — let me read this catalogue on vinyl flooring!

Stop stewing — Pooh-poohing — I’ve had a good look down there and there’s nothing doing.

Stop pouting! Stop shouting — you know I pulled a muscle when I did that grouting.

Stop nagging! I’m flagging; you know as well as I do that the pipes want lagging.

Don’t choose me, don’t use me, my mother sent a note to say you must excuse me.

Better still, see it all here.

Another one bites the dust

I wonder if there is a collective noun for a spate of deaths of the performers that comprised the theatrical and musical milieu of a chap’s childhood and teenage years. Of course it’s no surprise that a clutch of the memorable stars of one’s youth begins to fall off their perch when youth itself progresses to middle-age or beyond, but it does become a bit alarming when so many seem to expire in relatively quick succession. Warren Mitchell, the Alans Howard and Rickman, David Bowie, Val Doonican, Glenn Frey, Cilla Black (although I was not a fan), Andy M Stewart (“Who?” you ask) and now, at a grand old age, Ronnie Corbett. There have been tributes a-plenty to him so I’ll not reference them here other than to add my own small contribution:

The stage lights have finally gone dim
On a life that was full to the brim
Of mirth a propos
The Two Ronnies Show,
So now, it is “Goodnight from him”.

Ronnie C in one of his best-known guises, the meandering and tangential story-teller
Ronnie C in one of his best-known guises, the meandering and tangential story-teller