Al Murray Demonstrates That Britain Is Best

While I’m thinking about stand-up comics, here’s another of my favourites. Al Murray, in his character as the Pub Landlord, perfectly channels the outer reaches of the Faragiste, right wing mentality. Murray gives the rest of the world a well-deserved kicking in this video, all you’ll ever need to know about Johnny Foreigner and Abroad.

Stewart Lee at The Stand, Glasgow

My favourite stand-up comic is Stewart Lee, and one of his funniest routines is this one in 2005 at The Stand in Glasgow, where he takes on Braveheart and the full might of Scottish myth. For a long time I didn’t know where or when the performance took place, but through the magic of Youtube I found a video of the full set, of which the Braveheart segment is only a clip.

So here’s the Braveheart clip, as a taster in case you’ve never heard of Lee, followed by a complete video of the set. He’s a bit like Marmite, people tend to either love or hate him.

One Cup or Two?

You can keep your Kants and Heideggers, your Platos and Spinozas, the whole high-falutin’ philosophical crew. When it comes to life’s mundane mysteries, they’re no use at all. As well as being permanently pissed, according to the Pythons.

I give you instead an everyday philosopher, John Shuttleworth, Sheffield singer/songwriter and pigeon-fancier. Armed only with a Hammond organ, he sings of the simple conundrums we all face. Here is the one cup or two dilemma. Tea, of course.

We’ve all been there.

John Shuttleworth is actually a character of Graham Fellows, who also gives voice to John’s wife, Mary, and his next door neighbour and sole agent, Ken Worthington. Fellows started as Jilted John, a teenager dumped by his girlfriend. He sent a demo tape to the legendary John Peel Show, and ended up on Top of the Pops.

But it’s the later incarnation of John Shuttleworth who’s lasted. To close this post, lest I witter on forever, is the saga of John’s attempt to enter a song in the Eurovision Song Contest.

Guilty Pleasures

One of the pleasures of television is Stephen Fry, and here he is talking about his own guilty pleasures. It’s 30 minute romp through the delights of Abba, Howard’s Way, darts, Wagner, swearing, Delia Smith, Stanley Unwin, Georgette Heyer, poetry, Led Zeppellin, Countdown, and Farley’s Rusks, interspersed with clips from Fry and Laurie.

Wodehouse in Exile


There was an excellent BBC dramatisation today of P. G. Wodehouse’s internment by the Nazis in WWII. See it on iPlayer if you can, because it’s well worth watching. He was living at Le Touquet at the time of the invasion of France, unable to get away. Nearing 60, he would have been released at that age, but the Nazis saw a propaganda opportunity in getting the creator of Jeeves and Bertie Wooster to broadcast humorous accounts of internment camp life from Berlin to America. The aim was to present a favourable image to the Americans, in order to delay their entry into the war.

So the naive and undeniably foolish Wodehouse was manoeuvred into the broadcasts with the aid of a British collaborator in the internment camp. This man was also sent to Berlin, all the better to keep up the pressure on Wodehouse. As portrayed in the programme, he simply wanted to lighten the burden of his fellow internees, and to show a sort of stiff upper lip in the face of adversity. There is one suggestion that he didn’t want to hear about the sounds coming from a concentration camp not far away, but it’s quickly passed over.

The British and Americans did not take kindly to the broadcasts from Berlin. “Cassandra” (William Connor), a columnist for the Daily Mirror, called him a traitor and lied outrageously about Wodehouse’s lifestyle in France, including saying that he hosted cocktail parties for the German officers. I’d like to have quoted him but I can’t find anything online. George Orwell, my other great literary hero, defended Wodehouse in forthright terms, while also pointing out his gullibility. Orwell’s piece is as much good literary criticism, and worth reading for that alone.

Wodehouse, the quintessentially English writer, never returned to England, becoming an American citizen. A secret MI5 report cleared him of treason, but was never published in his lifetime, a thoroughly cowardly course of inaction. It still makes me angry to think about this treatment of the greatest comic writer England has ever produced. If you have any doubts about what Wodehouse really thought of fascism, then I give you one of his great comic creations – Roderick Spode. He is clearly based on Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists, with their trademark black shirts. With Spode, Bertie Wooster’s nemesis, it’s black football shorts

The trouble with you, Spode, is that just because you have succeeded in inducing a handful of half-wits to disfigure the London scene by going about in black shorts, you think you’re someone. You hear them shouting “Heil, Spode!” and you imagine it is the Voice of the People. That is where you make your bloomer. What the Voice of the People is saying is: “Look at that frightful ass Spode swanking about in footer bags! Did you ever in your puff see such a perfect perisher?

Lovely stuff, from a gentle, funny man, who brought such joy to the world through his writing.

Some timely advice for Pope Francis

Now there’s a new bloke at the Vatican, I thought he should be introduced to American  comedian Sarah Silverman, who has some excellent advice for the new pontiff. The last pope, sadly, didn’t return her calls. But I’m hoping that someone with the humility to name himself after Francis of Assisi, and who pays his own hotel bills, will be fertile soil for Sarah’s humanitarian message.