Caption Competition No. 2 : Boer War Cricket

Another go at reviving dear old Punch’s caption competition.  This one, by Bernard Partridge,  is from the time of the Boer War –

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1901 caption – Kitchener (Captain and Wicket- keeper) – “He has kept us in the field a deuce of a time, but we’ll get him now we’ve closed in for catches.”

2012 caption – England wicket-keeper (sotto voce) – “Psst, Kruger – you sure you don’t have an English granny?”

Post Sixth Form Choices (Old Style And New)

We have been looking recently at some cartoons from Punch that suggest life in Britain has not – in every respect – changed a great deal since the 1930s. 

But here’s one from 1977 that illustrates how some things have changed out of all recognition .

In the ’70s Punch ran a caption competition where they would reprint an old cartoon and invite readers to supply a contemporary caption.  Thirty years on the older captions often seem funnier than the newer ones.  I thought I’d have a go at reviving this feature.

2012 caption – “Our choice is simple – pay £9,000 in tuition fees or work in Poundland for nothing.”

(I was in the sixth form in 1977 – we didn’t know how lucky we were.)

The British Character : Has It Changed? #1

An inquisitive child can learn a great deal by browsing through his (or her)  parents’  bookshelves.  I know I did. 

As a small child, my favourites (apart from various works by the late E.W. Swanton) were those adult books that had pictures in them.  I remember with particular fondness a book of Thurber cartoons and a collection of  Way of the World columns by Peter Simple (I can’t have had the faintest idea who the likes of Mrs. Dutt-Pauker, the Hampstead Thinker, were meant to be satirising, but I recognised a thoroughly imagined alternative reality when I saw one).     

Another was The British Character  by ‘Pont’.  ‘Pont’ was the pen-name of Graham Laidler, a Punch cartoonist of the 1930s.  Born in Jesmond, Newcastle (the home, too, of the founders of Viz) he suffered from tuberculosis and was forced to spend much of his life in a sanatorium in Switzerland (presumably why so many of his cartoons feature observations of the British abroad).  He died of polio in 1940 at the age of 32, though not before he had made a contribution to the war effort with some drolly morale-boosting cartoons.  He also left enough for a posthumous post-war volume Some Of Us Are Absurd (something of an understatement, in my view).

The British Character was hugely popular in its day, to the extent that some of the observations now seem trite (more so, I imagine, than when he first made them).  It is also true, as E.M. Delafield points out in her introduction, that it is the English, rather than the British character that he is concerned with, and that, as Punch generally did, he is presenting a version of  upper-middle class life (people have butlers, they dress for dinner) to a middle class audience.

I suppose that the book’s popularity owed something  to the fact that Pont was depicting the English as they liked to see themselves, but then the projection of an idealised self-image can be as revealing as the acutest of observations.

John Betjeman – in what was an otherwise unencouraging round-up of humorous books – had this to say about it in the New Statesman in 1938 –

“‘Pont’ is in the newer Punch tradition and he is good at drawing semi-imbecile clubmen, middle-aged ladies and vacuous ‘modern’ girls.  Here and there the restrictions demanded by the Punch public appear but on the whole he has his own gentle sense of satire and sticks to it.  I liked some of his drawings immensely …”     

And I think it is the quality of the drawings, rather than the observations, that make it live.

I thought it might be interesting to revisit ‘The British Character’, 80-odd years on, and see how much has changed.  So here, as the first of a mini series, is one character who, I think, has managed to make a seamless transition to the digital age.

“Don’t throw that newspaper away, Sir – you’ll need it when you write an angry post on your blog!  Or have you thought about contributing to Comment Is Free?”

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I should apologise for the quality of the image here – it is a very old book.  The colouring-in of the background is the work of WordPress itself, not another attempt at Hockney pastiche.

The Disagreeable World of John Lydon

I’ve been catching up on my reading, and happened to be browsing through the Silver Jubilee special edition of Punch

(- ah, those eminently civilised and agreeable humourists of yesteryear – Basil Boothroyd! Sheridan Morley! Christopher Booker! – not to mention my dear old chum and quaffing partner Wallace Arnold) when I came across this –

Now, to my rheumy old eyes, this looked very much like an advertisement for that innovative recording Metal Box by Public Image Limited and, indeed, the (dread word!) logo does look very similar.

But how can this be?” – quoth I – “surely the Sex Pistols were still in full flower in Jubilee Year, and have I not just – a few pages earlier – been reading some good-natured chaff on that very subject by dear old Kenneth Robinson?”.  Closer inspection (with my reading glasses on) revealed that it was an advertisement for Metal Box Limited, the well-known manufacturers of … metal boxes.

Now there is nothing wrong with a little creative reappropriation, or as our chums sur le continong say détournement* (though who would have guessed that the young Lydon was a subscriber to Punch?)

But imagine my surprise when – coming a little more up-to-date – I read this in the latest edition of Mojo magazine –

The duo [i.e. Wobble and Levene] booked four early February dates … billed as “Metal Box in Dub” to air instrumental improv takes on PIL’s classic album from 1979.  Wobble, however, contacted MOJO to say that … he received a letter from John Lydon’s lawyers threatening legal action, and that … Lydon sought to copyright “Metal Box” in his name alone …” 

A fine kettle of worms, methinks.

(*A détournement is a technique developed in the 1950s by the Letterist International and consist in “turning expressions of the capitalist system against itself.” as Wikipedia puts it).