It’s been three weeks since I last gave you some smiles for a Saturday, so I think it’s about time I gave you some more. For this set, I thought I’d delve back into my younger years and share with you some smiles from people who were good raconteurs, skilled at playing with words. I enjoyed watching a lot of these back then, though there was no such thing as the interweb or YouTube in those days: the only way we could see them was on tv or, if we were lucky, to listen to records. I’m also including some songs, one of which has made me hoot with laughter ever since I first heard it at a friend’s house, when his father shared some of his comedy records with us – on 78rpm discs, no less!
I’m starting with one which my uncle had on record, and we used to pester him to play it whenever we stayed with them as children. This is only six minutes of a much longer piece, but it gives you a feel for the genius of Gerard Hoffnung:
Hoffnung was born in Berlin in 1925. After being raised in Germany he was brought to London as a boy, to escape the Nazis. Over the next two decades in England, he became known as a cartoonist, tuba player, impresario, broadcaster and raconteur. This speech to the Oxford Union in December 1958 is probably his most famous but there are several others which have been committed to disc if you’re interested, and quite a few of these have found their way onto YouTube. Sadly, he suffered a brain haemorrhage nine months after this, and died at the age of just 34. If you’d like to know more about him, this is his Wikipedia page. By the way, in case you didn’t know, the buildings here which sport blue lamps are police stations – just one little piece of helpful advice he gave those unsuspecting tourists…
My next clip is from a man who has been one of the best raconteurs of my lifetime. In the 1980s the ITV channel here in the UK ran a series called An Audience With… which featured several well known performers playing to an invited audience of the tv stars of the day. You’ll probably recognise some of them in this, which is the first ten minutes of An Audience with Peter Ustinov:
Like Hoffnung, Ustinov was multitalented, known for his appearances in many movies and his writings, as well as his skills as an orator. What I like about this one is the way he moves effortlessly through voices and facial mannerisms, whilst having a bit of fun at the expense of the British upper classes and their ability to talk a completely different version of our language, one which is utterly incomprehensible to we poor plebs! Ustinov had a fascinating multinational lineage, including a Russian mother (hence the comment about the Revolution). His Wikipedia page gives much detail of his achievements – he was a very talented man, and it was always a pleasure to see him in one of his many guest appearances on tv shows.
I mentioned that I would be including some comic songs, and this is the first. As a brief piece of black humour I’m not sure that anyone has ever bettered this:
Tom Lehrer is now 93, having had a long career as a lecturer in mathematics and musical theatre. He performed his own songs for a short while in the Fifties and Sixties, and it is a testimony to his originality that they are still well known today. Again, here is a Wikipedia link if you want to know more. And as that one was quite brief, how about another from his warped mind:
Some of the lyrics in that, and the rhymes he creates, are nothing short of genius to my mind. I bet students flocked to his classes!
This next song I’m sharing is one which was a huge part of my childhood, largely because it was regularly requested for the Saturday breakfast time radio show Children’s Favourites, hosted in my younger days by ‘Uncle Mac.’ The performers, Michael Flanders and Donald Swann, were tv regulars, and as you can see from this clip their audience wasn’t just children – just look at some of these outfits:
Flanders and Swann met at school, and began performing together when they were in their teens. This song was a part of their show At The Drop Of A Hat, which they first performed in 1956 and which was extensively toured, including over 200 dates in the US in 1959/60. I can’t be sure, but I think this performance comes from that show, as I know it was recorded for broadcast. As well as their witty songs, their shows were held together by Flanders’ skills as a raconteur, which you can see in this clip.
My final offering today is much more recent. The Armstrong And Miller Show ran for three series on the BBC from 2007 to 2010, having been updated from an earlier version that had been on Channel 4. It was a sketch show and featured a range of regular characters, of which this pair is one such. I think you might recognise the homage being paid in this:
For those of you outside the UK, that ending was the ‘test card’ that was used during non-broadcast hours in my youth, as it gave tv engineers a reference point when working on faulty sets. I don’t ever recall it being used for censorship, though, but Armstrong and Miller employed it well.
That’s all for today. As usual, I hope I’ve given you a few smiles to brighten up what is currently a dull and damp day here – ‘moist and mizzly,’ as my Mum used to describe it. I’m now off to watch some Wimbledon and keep my fingers crossed that I’ll still have a smile on my face around 10pm this evening, after the England game. Enjoy your weekend 😊