A chance find at a second hand book stall last month of “England Their England” by A G MACDONELL l revealed where I came across one of the funniest punchline ever written.
During World War I, MACDONELL served for two years as a lieutenant of the Royal Artillery before being invalided out of the army. (as is Lieutenant Cameron, the narrator in England, Their England.) He became a journalist .and author.
Introduced as both “a classic of English humour” and “gently satirical” MACDONELL though educated at Winchester was Scottish and in the book (David) Cameron aided in pursuit of a journalistic career by a Welshman unmercifully satirises the English upper and middle classes.
Published in 1933 and of that time …The most famous chapter in the book is of a “cricket match” between journalists, up from London, and a village team in which features equally both the match and the local pub. Peopled by Journos drink and pubs proliferate.
To illustrate here’s a chapter (subbed) featuring one aspect of an Englishman’s and women’s lives, their theatre going tastes, when as a drama critic, Macdonnel principally was, On which Donald holds forth thus.
“The acknowledged fact that the English drama, as acted in London, is the lowest form of the art in the world, because the public will only go to visit trash and would religiously boycott first rate plays.
Donald’s week time fare featured adultery against a background of 1) Spiritualism, 2) in the Straights Settlements, and 3) in Mayfair with lots of epigrams and “two joll young things “
It is left to societies and groups of Intelligent Theatre Lovers to produce these first class plays on Sunday evenings. Hardly a Sunday went by without a masterpiece by Pirandello, Tchecov or John Jacques Bernard “dazzled the eyes.”
Donald on a Sunday viewed one of these masterpieces with ”an audience filtering through the stalls, broken only by the greetings of celebrities.” The piece to be given was a translation of a German masterpiece by Herr Rupert-Stilzchen the great exponent of Illuzionist Symbolism incidental choreography by Dripp
The scene throughout a gallery of a salt mine in Upper Silesia the play called the “Perpetuation of Eternity” with Donald wondering which part of the choreography played in life in Upper Silesian salt mines before a gong heralded twenty minutes of darkness. This followed by twenty minutes occupied by a soliloquy to the spirit of Polish Maternity, spoken in Italian, punctuated with applause by 100 per cent of the audience
The soliloquy ended, the lights went up to see the salt workers digging while chanting dismally as they worked. The foreman of the gallery then came forward and shot two of the workers. Whether for bad chanting or bad digging was not made clear. Cinema shots of New York was followed by ‘Negro’, in the wings singing through a megaphone with gusto “When the midnight Choo Choo leaves for Alabam.”
Acts 2, 3, 4 and the last five (of the play) “packed full of Illusionist Symbolism were of brilliance and irony. One effect being the murder by the salt workers of a preference shareholder of Cerebos Salt Ltd by throwing into a quartz crushing machine.
Dripps choreography turned out to be the dance of the mourners at the funeral of a demented house agents symbolic of the 1926 housing shortage in the Silesian towns of Kattowitiz and Breslaw.
In short the Perpetuation of Eternity was, as one of the dailies said next morning “an arresting piece of thought provoking symbolising produced since Six Characters etc. last week.”
A leader in the critic craft a Mr Brown though called it “a turgid Drip from the village Pumpernickel and enquired ( this is it!) “If this is life in Upper Silesia what can Lower be like?”