Wednesday, April 13, 2005
"You Americans always explain how you do a trick. We English never explain," my British Cartoonist Club friend Les Lilley used to say. I'd sent him the famous SPY magazine parody, Bunny Burgers, which had several ad agencies competing to represent a product of surpassing awfulness--but the lure of big money proved irresistible and none of them considered the offer a joke.
Les read BUNNY BURGERS, then informed me of the famous 1957 Swiss Spaghetti Harvest report on the British news show, PANORAMA. Many barfights allegedly resulted from this broadcast, since PANORAMA was a trusted news source, rather like the American SIXTY MINUTES. If some of the British public were too obtuse to figure out that a program about Swiss spaghetti broadcasting on April 1 was a hoax, PANORAMA figured that was obviously their problem. Of course, they probably were never trusted quite as much after that.
English humour can be absurd, as in MONTY PYTHON or Alice in Wonderland.
And there is the type of humour that depends on absolute poker-faced recitation; usually material that is taken out of context and presented with earnest sincerity. Though, of course, some of it doesn't appear to have any rational context.
I was promenading past the British Museum once and saw a strange window display in a bookshop.The titles were decidedly strange--oddly, the only book I remember clearly was DOES THE DOG CAUSE CANCER?
Of course I went into the shop. This was Jarndyce Books, and the owners had not only collected many such titles, they had even published a collection of some of the stranger ones.
I was working at the Amblin' Studio in London at the time, and what with the long hours some of us decided to declaim the poetry of Amanda McKittrick Ros at the top of our lungs, by way of relaxation. We used to do this near the Spanish animator's desk. His neighbors requested that we move on. We found an empty corner and would declaim horrible poetry and prose with theatrical gestures and booming tones.
None of us were fired.
Alfred Armstrong's Oddbooks site was once the only one on the Web devoted to Amanda--there have since been two others-- and it was a pleasure writing to someone with similarly odd tastes. Check out the rest of his site; it's a lot of fun, and I was even able to recommend to him one of my favorite etiquette books, What to Talk About.
I've just purchased THE LITTLE BOOK OF BAD TASTE, and found some more fine titles that may be 'new' to the odd book collectors out there, so here they are as a public service from blogwemust:
THE ROMANCE OF LEPROSY, E. Mackerchar, 1949.
CONSTIPATION AND CIVILIZATION, J. C. Thomson, 1943.
A PICTORIAL BOOK OF TONGUE COATING, Anonymous, 1981.
SEX AFTER DEATH, B. J. Ferrell and D. E. Frey, 1983.
All I can say is, Trees died for this.