Occasional posts on subjects including field recording, London history and literature, other websites worth looking at, articles in the press, and news of sound-related events.

30 October 2009

Kenneth Williams and the Mayor of Garratt

AMONG THE CHAOS swarming off the pages of Clive Bloom’s excellent book Violent London: 2,000 Years of Riots, Rebels and Revolts, there’s a few sentences ending in exclamation marks. You get the sense Bloom thinks London’s a bit dull these days, and he’d very much like to swap his professorial chair for a ringside seat at some of the spectacles described in his book. For example:

Here candidates took a vulgar oath, their right hand resting on the sign of the mob – a brickbat!

The oath was part of the 18th-century mock election of the Mayor of Garratt, a ‘dusty and neglected heap of cottages between Wandsworth and Tooting’. Despite the obscure surroundings, the mock elections attracted huge crowds and an anti-authority, carnival atmosphere took hold. Candidates had to swear to the following roll-call of smutty innuendo:

That you have admitted peaceably and quietly, into possession of a freehold thatched tenement, either black, brown or coral, in hedge or ditch, against gate or stile, under furze or fren, on any common or common field, or enclosure, in the high road, or any of the lanes, in barn, stable, hovel, or any other place within the manor of Garratt; and, that you did (Bona fide) keep (ad rem) possession of that said thatched tenement without any let, hindrance, or molestation whatever; or without any ejectment or forcibly turning out of the same; and that you did then and there and in the said tenement, discharge and duty pay and amply satisfy all legal demands of the tax that was at that time due on the said premises; and lastly, did quit and leave the said premises in sound, wholesome and good tenable repair as when you took possession and did enter therein. So help you.

This blog touched on the subject of ordinary people mocking high-falutin’ speechification in an earlier post about fairground barkers, so it’s good to find more examples. There’s a present-day echo in the Up Helly Aa festivals held in Lerwick and elsewhere in the Shetlands, and they start with annual proclamations filled with local in-jokes and unflattering remarks about island worthies. The proclamations also appear as printed banners, and this one in PDF form comes from 2009.

Back on track with the theme of smut, there’s a good example of a pompous lecture being sent up in one of the later Carry On films, the underrated Carry On Behind made in 1975. It begins straight after the opening credits, and has Kenneth Williams as Professor Crump making a mess of the proceedings. The setting’s closer to home than the Shetlands, but a gap of thirty-four years makes it seem like another world: