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Vitamin Q: the book!

~ Monday, March 31, 2003

12 things which people found hilarious between the wars:

1 Flatulence - eek! Sadly, anything to do with roughage, rumbling or raspberries was top notch humour material in the age of the flapper. Witness the fruit-obsessed song (later revived by Spike Milligan) about the village 'petomaine', who made a musical performance of his flatulence:

Though it isn't very pretty, you've got to admit it's cute,
So all together, let it go (sundry kazoo noises), eat more fruit!

2 Ethnic Sorts - Chinamen, Arabs, 'cannibal' natives - yee ha! But funniest of all back then was the humble Inuit (neé Eskimo), subject of many a ribald song and poem. How's about 'I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Ice Cream' (I can just see Lionel Blair having a dicky ticker moment on Give Us a Clue trying to do that as a charade), which explains:

When he says come on let's go, though it's 45 below,
Listen what those Eskimos all holler:
(all together!) I scream you scream, we all scream for ice cream, ra! ra! ra!

3 Funny Voices - men with tight-trousered falsettos, little big-band sidekicks specially kept for their ability to dip to a rasping duck-honk; anything juddering, lisping, stammering, camp, Italiano or cod-horror - they lapped it up. I blame the Marx Brothers. For everything.

4 Wigan - we all need a joke town to name-check, but why Wigan, all but as reviled now as back in them days?

Oh you live up in Wigan?
Well, don't blame that on me... a copper in the deliberately irritating ditty 'Shut the Door, They're Coming Through the Window'. Wigan pier, Wigan kebabs, Wigan as the epicentre of 'circus-skills' dancing. Ooh stop it or I'll send you up to Auntie Edith in Wigan! She'll sort you.

5 Prunes - oh, what better than a fruit (hurrah!) that has bowel (twice hurrah!) connotations? And it's wrinkly! And it has a silly name that sounds mildly rude! Join me now as I croon:

No matter how young a prune may be,
it's always full of wrinkles.
We may get them on our face,
prunes get 'em every place!

6 A Glimpse of Stocking - nowadays, young college babes aiming to shock bother metal detectors with multi-piercings, wear thongs (is there anything less erotic than the thong?) just below their shoulder blades and feed us with blogs about their love lives, but back in the 1920s, a fad appeared which shocked and awed America - the sock! Yes, rad college girls would roll their stockings down to look like male socks, hence giving American males the first ever sight of the lightly-downed female patella, hence the song 'Roll 'Em, Girls':

Roll 'em down and show your pretty knees.
Even grouchy traffic cops get jolly,
When they see you step on to a trolley!

7 Belly Dancing - it's got sex, it's got ethnicity, it's got timpani - it's a roll-over scream! Princeton gals may have offered a downy knee, but cor, those middle Eastern ones, they had their tummy-buttons out and about and everything! Here's what 'Egyptian Ella' was capable of when she shook her bread-basket at the locals:

Every sheikh in the audience
Jumps up and offers her love intense (in tents?).
Oh how they love Egyptian Ella!

8 Foreign Climes - ah, Timbuktu, so much to answer for! Noel Coward knew that he had a sure-fire hit if he name-checked a bucket-load of far-flung locations, a spattering of gurning natives, and Johnny Englishman offering his rosy stiff upper lip to the sun:

In Bangkok, at twelve o'clock
They foam at the mouth and run
But mad dogs and Englishman
Stay out in the midday sun!

The Eskimo, not eligible for this song on a technical point, had to make do with a comeback in the puerile but jaunty rival travelogue 'When it's Night-time in Italy, it's Wednesday Over Here'.

9 Naturists - always a fair and square figure of fun, long before the fad for 'nudist films', there were songs such as 'Nellie the Nudist Queen' which pitches bawdy puns seldom found outside of the George Formby songbook. Naughty naked Nell manages to escape the attentions of some auditors - how? Well:

When she showed her assets,
Boy, her assets were immense!

10 Yodelling - Somewhere on this earth, there are isolated pockets where yodelling is taken seriously. But 'The Yodelling Chinaman' has it all - silly voices, ethnicity, and, boom boom, trump card, it has yodelling! The song begins:

In the café the other day, down in Chinatown
There I sat in a Chinese hat with black men, yellow and brown.
Plinky Plinky Poo said, 'Quietness please'
Pakee Pakee Poo will sing...

and soon we are treated to a fine exhibition of high-pitched comedy yodelling, never since equalled. Mildly offensive it may be, but few will fail to grin a little.

11 Homosexuality - Still all very codified, back then, but few were in doubt of the real subject matter behind 'Let's All be Fairies', in which a singer as camp as a red squirrel tells of two 'great big burly boxers' who decide to throw the fight because they secretly want to be fairies ('Don't be afraid if I shove you, you can't imagine how I laaaave you.'):

We'll go wimsy wamsy, on tiptoe, we'll say dash dash!
Let's all be fairies - tinkle tinkle, crash crash crash!

12 Prostitution - nudge nudge, wink wink. Rewriting myths and fairy tales from a feminist perspective, eh? Long before the masses of contemporary female writers found their subject, it was being done by jazz big bands. Witness, this tale of Red Riding Hood empowering herself:

How could Little Red Riding Hood have been so very good
And still keep the wolf from the door?
Why was she dressed up in bright flaming red
Unless she expected to knock someone dead?

Laugh, I nearly dyed.

Source: by RcL; influenced by Silly Songs of the '20s and '30s (BBC) which is rare as hen's teeth.

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