Making England merrie: a report on the satire boom
PETER COOK, who certainly ought to know, said recently he wouldn't be surprised if England soon sank giggling emptily into the sea. Such is the burgeoning state of satire on this island now. Cook, of course, is one of the original Beyond the Fringe quartet that breezed through Toronto last, year before opening so successfully on Broadway. Still in his twenties, he is a gifted performer and revue writer as
well as an impresario ( the Establishment clubs in London and New York) and publisher (Private Eye, Scene). Cook was also one of the early sponsors of David Frost, and Frost is none other than the young man you've read so much about — the compère of the most talked-about TV program in England, That Was the Week That Was or TWTWTW.
Satire, which reached its popular if not artistic zenith with TWTWTW, can now be safely recommended to Canadian investors as a rapid-growth industry. Boards of directors tend to interlock, but development is certainly diversified. There are not only satirical nightclubs. strip shows, magazines, TV shows and films, but also available, as of last week, real Private Eye cigarette lighters, and soon (if the market holds firm), possibly, satirical cigarettes and breakfast foods. Such is the present hunger for insult that an advertisement in the personal column of a recent New Statesman read: "TWTWTW strictly for the sick ... in body. Birmingham Hospital broadcast programme seeks scripts for weekly blasts delivered via 100,000 earphones ...”
EVEN THE SATIRISTS HAVE GONE COMMERCIAL
The TWTWTW team that once pounced so savagely and, at times, with true freshness on much that is vulgar in British life have, sad to say, now gone wildly show-biz themselves.
David Frost will open your showroom or supermarket for £200 — if he’s free. According to one report he is so much in demand that he has to turn down nineteen out of twenty offers. William Rushton, of TWTWTW and Private Eye. now' writes a puerile column for the Sunday Mirror. Nicolas Luard, the young entrepreneur behind most of the satire industry, is planning to produce a film about Christine Keeler. (Miss Keeler was a model who was much-lampooned by TWTWTW and Private Eye while there was still some ambiguity about her relationship with a cabinet minister who has since resigned.) All of which, it seems to me, is a bit too much like having your satire and making it too.
Satire is everywhere today, and “with it” is a phrase that recurs as often in the daily press as once did "angry young men.” But where did it all begin? Possibly with Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis’ triumphantly funny first novel. Then there was Malcolm Muggeridge's heroic
attempt to pull Punch after him into the twentieth century when he was, for a brief and astonishing time, editor of that British relic. There was also Bernard Levin who. signing himself Taper in the Spectator, used to write the most splendidly anarchistic and irreverent political column in the country. (Levin is now a card-carrying member of the TWTWTW team.)
But it would be silly to speak of satire as “new.” This country, after all. has produced such uncqualed masters as Max Beerbohm and Evelyn Waugh. What is different about today's satire is its sexual permissiveness. True, the trousers have been falling for a long time in the music halls and on Whitehall stages, hut they have tended to fall to a little more purpose — metaphorically speaking, of course — ever since the trial which ended in Penguin hooks’ winning permission to publish Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Another thing is that, as with most contemporary “rages” in this country. the primary inspiration was American. Today's British satirists have borrowed from Jules Feiffcr, Mort Saht and Lcnnie Bruce. This is not to take anything away from Beyond the bringe, which was not merely funny; it was consistently brilliant. But with Private Eye and the BBC-TV production of TWTWTW the rot had already begun to set in.
TWTWTW. now off for the summer, certainly made for a welcome change. But the most surprising things about it were that it was on TV and that it was produced by what was commonly called Auntie BBC. For almost the first time, we w;erc allowed to sec and hear on the small screen the kind of words and jokes we usually hear at home only after the set has been turned off. After the initial and refreshing shock, however, the show' too quickly degenerated into set pieces: the Macmillan joke, the homosexual joke, and the royalty joke. All the same, we watched it regularly. Sometimes we even stayed home specially to watch it. And ven' fewTV shows can make that claim against anybody.
Making Anglo-Saxons bilingual: the Montreal stampede to learn French
IN SHANGHAI in 1948 the smartest parlor game among middle-class businessmen was trying to recall the names of college friends who had joined the communists and who, it w'as correctly presumed, w'ould soon be taking over the city. In Montreal in 1963, a popular new occupation of Anglo-Saxon businessmen is learning French. As one of them put it, “If I’m going to be kicked out of Quebec, I want to know why.”
The English language has traditionally been the symbol of Anglo-Saxon domination of Quebec. But in Quebec's new era bilingualism is becoming an economic as well as cultural necessity. One salesman for a solidly AngloSaxon heavy-equipment firm was suddenly cut off by Quebec Hydro because he had never learned French. The company hired a FrenchCanadian front man and sent its original salesman to learn French. The majority of the Montreal and Canadian stock exchanges’ twenty-man administration staff are bilingual and seven of them are French Canadians. Most Help Wanted ads now demand knowledge of two languages, and the day is fast passing w hen a French-Canadian bank teller couldn't hope to get out of his cage because the bank had hired him to deal only with the natives. Banks and business firms are discovering that their business is enhanced by a French-Canadian vice-president or two.
Anglo - Saxon Montrealers are learning
French by the thousands. This year more than 4,000 people jammed into the free French courses sponsored by the provincial government in Catholic schools throughout Montreal. These courses have been offered since 1888, but even four years ago they had only 1,000 pupils. The University of Montreal offers four different learning programs for extension course students lasting from nine w-eeks to four years. The students in the summer course not only learn irregular verbs, they go to dances, French restaurants, French movies and take side trips to Quebec City and the Laurcntians. To make sure the language lessons stick, the university insists that all students in the summer course sign papers promising to speak nothing but French even in the privacy of their own homes. Last winter the university set up a special crash program for twenty executives from Steinberg’s supermarkets. The businessmen — including the four Steinberg brothers — w'orked four hours a day, three days a week. They attended lectures, spoke French over supper, and labored in the university’s language laboratories, where students practise with tape recorders in separate cubicles on w'hich an instructor occasionally eavesdrops.
THE COST OF BILINGUALISM: $600, A RED FACE
For professional language teachers the boom in French is a bonanza. Five of them have opened offices in one downtown Montreal block since 1960. Two years ago the Berlitz school opened its first Montreal branch with only two French teachers. Today it has twentyfour classrooms and may have to knock down a wall in its new quarters to acquire more room. Berlitz has also started company programs: it sends instructors to firms like the Bank of Montreal, the Iron Ore Company of Canada, and the House of Seagram.
The cost of all this can be prohibitive — the average Berlitz student pays $600 to become fluently bilingual — and it can sometimes be humiliating. One English Canadian who was sent to language classes by his firm for several weeks w'as then taken to dinner by his bilingual boss. The boss was disgusted. “All that man could say was ‘Passez le HP Sauce!’ ” he reported. But the bandwagon of bilingualism is rolling too fast to be stopped now — at least in Quebec, where French has now become a status symbol. The latest in thing among Montreal’s English is to be caught with a ear radio tuned to a French station.
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