The Two Ronnies – rediscovered Mastermind sketch

(Mastermind theme – ‘Approaching Menace’)

Ronnie (as Magnus Magnusson): Our next contender is Mr Sten Ulysses Tayshen. Mr Tayshen, you have two minutes on general knowledge. Your time starts…now. Who was the Dutch graphic artist born in 1898, famous for his mathematically inspired woodcuts, lithographs, and mezzotints, specialising in impossible objects?

Other Ronnie (as contender, sneezing continually): Escher!

Correct. Name the American rapper born with the surname Raymond who has sold over eighty million records worldwide.

Usher!

Correct. Which Anglo-American novelist, playwright, screenwriter, autobiographer, and diarist wrote “Goodbye to Berlin” which later inspired the musical “Cabaret”

Isherwood!

Correct. In Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice”, what was Shylock’s religion?

A Jew!

Correct. What is the surname of Jane, actress, cake decorating expert and one time girlfriend of Paul McCartney?

Asher!

Correct. The street newspaper founded by John Bird and Gordon Roddick in September 1991 for sale by homeless people in London was called the Big…what?

Issue!

Correct. Which river rises in the North York Moors and reaches the North Sea at Whitby?

Esk!

Correct. What is the german word, meaning health, often said after someone sneezes?

Achoo!

Gesundheit. In the Beano comic, what is the name of Dennis the Menace’s dog?

Gnasher!

Correct. Which six letter word describes foods are those that conform to the Jewish dietary regulations of kashrut?

Kosher!

Correct. The Inuit and the Yupik substantially make up which group of people, based around the northern polar regions?

Eskimo!

Correct. An Indian playback singer is (bleeper sounds) …I’ve started so I’ll finish…is the subject of Cornershop’s 1998 number one single “Brimful of…” what?

Asha!

Correct. And at the end of that round, Mr Tayshen, you have scored ten points and no tissues. (Starts sneezing uncontrollably, drowned out by audience laughter)

The Secret Genius of Charles III

by de Vere Edwards          (Sunday 22 March 2263)

The public face

On the three hundredth anniversary of the release of the first album traditionally credited to the Beatles, Please Please Me, it is a good moment to revisit the controversy surrounding the true authorship of their “self-written” music.

 

Most critics are now agreed that four ordinary boys growing up with only a rudimentary education could not possibly have produced music of such complexity and beauty.  Little is known about the early lives of John, Paul, George and Ringo, and although literacy was widespread in the mid 20th century, it is quite possible that they could not read or write.

They are known, however, to have been raised in Liverpool, a poor city in the north of England.  In the 1950s when they were growing up, Liverpool would have been mostly rubble from the Middle War which ended in 1945: and although some people in England enjoyed the benefits of running water and electricity by now, it is very unlikely that these services would have been available in Liverpool at the time.

So we can safely dismiss the idea that four poorly educated people brought up in such poverty and squalor – effectively urban peasants – could have created such joyful, uplifting and often sophisticated music.  Of course, this raises the question: who did write and record it?  Obviously only someone with a complete and presumably expensive education.  And of course, someone young enough to be enthusiastic about youth music, which did not become popular in Britain until about 1955.

When you look at the context, an answer springs out straight away.  The man usually named as their “producer” is George Martin, who is known to have made recordings with The Goons, a popular comedy act of the time.  And the Goons had a notable fan: Prince Charles – at the time heir to the British throne, later briefly Charles III.

George Martin – the fixer

The British monarchy was extremely conservative at this time, and Queen Elizabeth’s son could not be seen to be involved in anything so vulgar or scandalous as popular music.  So he would have been faced with a dilemma: how could he get his songs recorded and released?  Charles is known to have been an associate of Spike Milligan – the writer of The Goon Show – who once wittily called Charles a “grovelling bastard”. Spike would have known George Martin well, and most likely set up a meeting between the two.

Prince Charles (right) with Spike Milligan – the link

After that it would have been a simple step to get his songs recorded. Martin, as a senior producer at EMI records, would have had access to capable musicians and good recording studios: he would also have had the contacts to recruit likeable working class actors to provide the public face of the band, while making sure they were kept well away from the recording studios – apart from publicity photographs, of course.  Charles would have been only fourteen or fifteen when the first “Beatles” recordings were made: this explains the relatively simple and crude nature of the early songs.

It is less clear who George Martin might have used to make the recordings, but a likely candidate is a “beat group” known as “A Band of Angels” which was formed at the prestigious Harrow School about this time.  Musical instruments were extremely expensive at this time, so it is probable that only the boys of wealthy parents would have been able to raise the money to buy them, and therefore develop any meaningful playing skills.  Or indeed to access the electricity that would have been required.  What Liverpool lad could afford a drum kit in those difficult days?  Certainly not Ringo Starr.  But it would have been no problem for Andrew Charles Malcolm Glywn Petre at Harrow School.

A Band of Angels – did they sing and play the “Beatles” hits?

Intriguingly, almost all evidence of Charles having any musical talent, or indeed any interest in popular music – save a passing reference to a fondness for singing group The Three Degrees – seems to have been carefully expunged from contemporary records.  Such a determined and sophisticated operation to cover his tracks could only have come from the very highest level.

Further evidence is provided by some of the “Beatles” songs.  For example, Back in the USSR displays an advanced knowledge of Soviet geography – the Ukraine, Georgia etc – well beyond the reach of ordinary citizens at the time.  By contrast, it would have been a simple matter for Charles to consult his ambassador for this information.

But what of the frontmen, the actors?  Of course, they had to be kept sweet to protect the royal family’s shameful secret, and this presented difficulties.  John Lennon, notoriously difficult, might have threatened to expose the pretence: in any event, he was assassinated in 1980.  George Harrison died in mysterious (and convenient?) circumstances in 2001.  Paul and Ringo seem to have been more amenable, and were placated with knighthoods.

Charles: unable to face the man killed for his convenience?

In conclusion, while there is still some doubt about who might have performed the “Beatles” songs, there is a compelling case that the compositions traditionally labelled “Lennon/McCartney” or “Harrison” were written by Charles, the young man who would later be King of England and Wales.  And the most persuasive evidence for this, ironically, is the perfect cleansing – and so the complete absence – of any detail in contemporary sources which might confirm this secret.

Charles – forgotten songwriting genius

 

Nine Handy Trouble-saving Opera Hacks

Do you ever think there’s a little too much drama in opera? Here I offer a few suggestions as to how the participants could save themselves a bit of trouble.

Radames to Aida: “I’m sorry darling, but you know I can’t discuss army business.”

Don José to Micaëla : “Oh yes, Carmen’s hot alright, but she’s crazy.  Will you marry me?”

 

Soldier to Desdemona: “Madam, you dropped your handkerchief.”

 

Cavaradossi to Angelotti: “Sorry mate, you’re not hiding down my well.”

Violetta to Alfredo: “No worries, I’ve had my BCG.”

Calaf to Ping, Pang and Pong: “…and if I get them wrong?…OK, I think I’ll pass.”

Butterfly to Pinkerton: “Marry you? Do you think I was born yesterday?”

 

Rigoletto
Gilda to Rigoletto: “You’re right Daddy, he’s a ratbag.  Let’s go home.”

 

La Boheme HD
Mimi: “Ah, there are the matches!”

Please feel free to suggest more in comments.

Cinquanta

verona2

Rik, fast approaching half a ton
Decided something must be done
Respecting this occasion mighty
So he took ten out from Blighty –

verona3
Rob came out to fair Verona
With Robyn, Lindsay and Fiona:
Rachel, Alice, saw no harm in
Flying out and watching Carmen
Debbie then expressed a need to
Have a hol and see Aida
While Kath and Ael declared quite archly
They would favour Pagliacci
Lastly Phil (whose opera passion
Balanced out his sense of fashion)
Made up eleven, perfect team
To challenge the Italian dream.

verona4

Four operas in three days went past
Five travelled home, while six made fast
Their convoy south, and soon were gone
To the village, trousers of St.John
And soon they met invaders from the east
Two Gauls brought Tim from freshly conquered Greece
Biff, Sue and Nelson rushed to Umbria
To make our party even numberier:
Alice whiled away the hour
With the princes in the tower
Finding bugs throughout the county
Magnifying Daddy’s bounty:
Rachel swore, by hook or crook
To read her way through every book.

Then did Craig, courageous, witty
Resolve to find Perugia city
And the others would essay to
Follow Biff the “Navigator”
Which sterling strategy unravelled
As round and round the town they travelled
The moon rose, and the wolves were barking
Still they hadn’t found their parking
Until, at last, their visit done
They ventured on the homeward run:
Now our story gets quite scary –
Enter the Carabinieri
Who seized on Rik, on Tim, on Gauls
And grabbed them firmly by the – arms
Asserting the insurance sheet
Was out of date and incomplete
Once Rik was silent, then twice more
And so they charged him Traditor!
And decreed that he be later
Interred beneath the escalator

verona
Which would indeed have been his doom
Like Radames inside his tomb
But for Theodore and Ulysse brave
Who, determined Rik to save
And making sure they did not miss
Gave both police a Zidane kiss
Enabling all to get away
Undamaged on this fateful day.

And so, our tale of travellers bold
You’ll thank the gods, is nearly told:
But heed its lessons: in Perugia
Parcheggio will quickly lose ya
Listening from the city wall
You’ll hear the siren voices call
“This way! That way! Over there!”
Until they give up in despair
Three cars condemned to streets infernal
Suffering this fate eternal –
And by the pricking of my thumbs
Someone’s eaten all the plums!

 

(August 2006)

The Voyage of the Alpha Beta

Mull001
Eleven heroes left Glengorm
Ignoring the approaching storm
So Wednesday night in Tobermory
Begins our sad and sober story
Where our eleven sailors bold
(Four young, four middle-aged, three cold)
With trembling hearts and steady feet em-
barked upon the Alpha Beta.
Four young, four middle-aged, three wrinklies
Went out that night in search of Minkes.
Aelwyn, senior of the crowd,
The father, resolute and proud
Kath held on for dear, dear life,
Loving mother, nana, wife.
Mull003
Speff was knocking back the grog
Every bit the old sea-dog.
Rachel went to eat a sandwich
Of chicken, bread and basil, and which
Once her appetite was sated
From her stomach separated
Embarking on its own romantic
Trip across the North Atlantic.
The boat sailed on into the night
While whales danced, just out of sight.
Mull002
Said Lindsay “I spy W”
Said the others “we will trouble you
To show us, please, where is this whale?”
“It’s in the head”, (like Alice’s “tail”)
Poor Debbie, rock on whom this trip was built
Sat below, consumed with guilt.
The isles of Rum and Muck and Eigg
They really didn’t give a feigg.
The isles of Eigg and Rum and Muck
They really couldn’t have worse luck.
While the crew were bravely singing
Still the Mars bar mocked them, swinging.
The boat sailed on, it pitched and rolled
But daunted not our sailors bold.
Mull004
Now coming back, with trembling hand
Gratefully regained the land
Adventurers who’d spotted nuffin
But a porpoise, seagulls and a puffin.
Now at last the story’s done
We go away to look for sun
But ever more, up in the north
They’ll mark July the twenty-fourth
And the locals will regale you
96 successes means that 4 will fail you.
Last before we separate
Kath says that we must name a date
When all will come back to this glen
So, see you here in twenty-ten!
(24 July 2002)
****************************************************
Year on year has quickly stacked –
The prophecy becomes a fact:
Though we parted as eleven
We come back now as only seven:
Kath is gone, and sorely missed
Speff, in Hightown, getting…well
Lindsay? Lending helping hands
Robyn? Other travel plans.
So here we are, anticipating
A little more precipitating:
Let’s follow our success with seagulls –
Time to go and find those eagles!
(August 2010)
****************************************************

Pilgrimage

 

To view the gem of Scotland’s isles
Nine supplicants came many miles
Aelwyn first, a candle planted –
His wish of peace for Kath was granted
Rob requested knees and toes
To see him safely up Munros
Fiona travelled not to pray –
Admired instead Mairi’s display
Said Debbie, can you ease my lumbar?
Sorted, pet, said Saint Columba
Handsome Nick and fair Fiona
Enhanced the beauty of Iona
Rachel asked for A-stars plenty
Alice? Just a fashion house, by twenty
Rik said “Please sir, can you
Help me know a thing’s true value –
And less to care how it is priced?”
“I’m Columba, mate, not Jesus Christ!”

(August 2010)

 

Jeremy Corbyn and the Large Flightless Bird

My brother Rob was visiting, and we had twenty minutes to pass before we could meet my daughter from her train.  Rob proposed a nostalgic wander around Rickmansworth, our local shopping town when we were kids.  We saw where our beloved Strawberry Fields record shop used to be (now a two storey car park), where WH Smith was and still is, and the previous site of the Cafe Suisse in Church Street – which we had often frequented in our youth – which was now the Lemongrass restaurant.  We had imagined that the Cafe Suisse might have been the “small cafe in Rickmansworth” which Douglas Adams was referring to in the opening passage of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Sadly Adams didn’t specify which cafe, although there were few in Rickmansworth in 1978 when he wrote the story.  Perhaps he just picked a curious sounding place from the outer reaches of the tube map.  Anyway, there was nothing on the front of the Tamarind Thai to claim the glory.

Rob asked whether I went to Rickmansworth much these days.  Yes, sometimes, I replied.  When I’m pressed into service for the Waitrose shop…if I ever need an actual bank branch…if we want to get a picture framed…if we need a jewellers…

“Jewellers?  Do you often go the the jewellers?”

“Sometimes.  I went there last year to get my wedding ring resized.”

“Why did you get your wedding ring resized?”

“Because of a rhea related incident.”

I can be ruthless, and I decided he deserved the full story.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

It was Thursday 8th June 2017.  I know that, because it was General Election day.  My wife and I walked to the local hall which serves as a polling station to cast our votes.  It was a beautiful day, so we opted for a longer walk and carried on across the fields and through the place we call No-Dragon Wood.

We emerged from the woods and walked on a footpath following the edge of a field close to farm buildings.  We were strolling along and chatting when I looked up and saw  a rhea charging towards us, wings extended, looking angry.  It must have escaped from the adjoining field where the rest of the flock were kept, separated from the public footpath.

You may not know much about rheas.  I certainly didn’t.  They are large flightless birds, in this case over five feet tall.  And apparently we had encountered this one at a bad time, because according to Wikipedia: “While caring for the young, the males will charge at any perceived threat that approaches the chicks including female rheas and humans.”

We tried to stand our ground but he was having none of it, and made aggressive pecking motions at us.  Soon it came after me – these fellows can run at 40 miles per hour – and in my effort to get away I stumbled on the uneven ground, landing awkwardly, and was on the ground as the thing approached me.

Amusing, no?  Well, no, let’s hear from a “bird expert” quoted in the press:

“They look nice but they are so strong it’s unbelievable. They aren’t listed as a dangerous animal but can kill you with one strike of their feet because their claws are six inches long.  They will also go for your eyes with their beak.”

I managed to stand up again before he was upon me, and together my wife and I scrambled an undignified exit from the field, moving briskly but not running, keeping our body language passive (which we found easy) and our heads turned to keep him in view.

I gratefully closed the gate behind us and we tried to regain our composure.  It was only then that I realised my left hand was hurting slightly from where I had landed on it.  Over the next few hours the modest pain subsided and had soon gone altogether.  But there was one lasting effect: the proximal interphalangeal joint on the third finger of my left hand was fractionally thicker, and my wedding ring could now be removed only with great difficulty.

As you will know, Jeremy Corbyn that day delighted his supporters by losing only narrowly to Theresa May.

I waited for a few weeks in the hope that my finger joint would revert to its previous size, but it showed no such inclination, so I made the trip to the jewellers which you have read about.

The next time we received our voter registration Household Enquiry Form, we both ticked the box to vote by post in future.  Voting in person, we decided, was too exciting for us.  And we’ve never since entered a polling booth.

Postscript 30 March 2020. In the first few days of the Coronavirus lockdown, my resized wedding ring has three times fallen off my finger, with no more encouragement than a coldish day, assistance from gravity, and perhaps lightly brushing against something. I conclude that after nearly three years, my proximal interphalangeal has reverted to its previous size and shape. To avoid dropping the ring down the u-bend or elsewhere, I have removed it, and will return to the jewellers in Rickmansworth for re-resizing when normal life resumes. And afterwards I will stay well away from that damned rhea.