In Search Of The Wild Guffaw
My Dad made a joke. I can only have been about 6 or 7 at the time. It was a Sunday afternoon. Now what you young ‘uns ought to know is that back then, when the world was simpler, when we had fewer choices and were better for it, Sundays used to go on for ever. The whole day was a series of non-events waiting to happen, waiting for the long and boring church service to be over, waiting for the rain to stop, waiting for Sunday Lunch, waiting for elderly unfamiliar relatives to go so we could stop being on our best behaviour, waiting for something interesting to come on the TV.
Ah, yes, the TV. Three things to remember about TV in the 60s. There was no 24 hour broadcast, it started late in the day and ended some time before midnight with the playing of the national anthem and the disappearing dot. Everything was in black and white. And there were, for the most part, only two channels, BBC and ITV. Sunday afternoon was never going to be prime time viewing so something soporific was scheduled for the post Sunday lunch nap which usually consisted of highlights of one of yesterday’s football matches followed by a film that seemed ancient even then. Occasionally the film would be something entertaining with James Robertson Justice or Wilfrid Hyde White but mostly they were worthy but dull films with a clear yet simple moral message. So that meant either a Western with its easy to identify good guys versus bad guys, where the rule of law triumphs, or Biblical Epics. And this particular Sunday it was the latter. Samson and Delilah.
Dad walked into the room, took one look at the screen and said, “Ah, Victor Manure.”
Now, that’s not a great joke.
And to be honest, it may not have been original. But to me it was a revelation.
That this was the first time I recall my Dad, a serious but not sombre man, say something funny is, on reflection less significant than the type of joke he told.
A pun. A play on words.
When today’s assignment suggested beginning with a quote I immediately thought of Muir and Norden.
Frank Muir and Denis Norden, the god-fathers of British Radio and TV Comedy, appeared regularly as performers on the radio show My Word, a literary quiz of which the undoubted highlight was the final round whereby Muir and Norden would take it in turns to narrate the origins of a particular famous quote only to transform the quote into a delightful series of puns. I recall one of them, I can’t recall which, telling a tale of an Inuit who felt the cold, especially when out hunting. An unfortunate occurrence for someone living in such northern climes, I’m sure you will agree. He tried various methods to keep warm. all to no avail. Until he hit on the idea of building a little stove on his boat. All went well until the inevitable happened, the boat caught fire and sank. Which only goes to prove that “You can’t have you Kayak and heat it.”
They told that with greater style and elegance and with a few more jokes thrown in for good measure.
Muir and Norden were the writers responsible for such classics as “Infamy! Infamy!” and for Peter Sellers “Balham – Gateway to the South” with the wonderful line “A rose red city, half as Golders Green”
So thanks Dad for that first pun, the one that set me off on my lifelong quest in search of the wild guffaw.