Humour today is beyond our ken

15th July 2005 at 01:00
If the timing's right, there should have been an article by me about the summer of 1981 on the back page of last week's TESS. There are a couple of things that space did not permit me to include, however. Consider this piece, then, to be the deleted scenes of the other.

I had no room to mention my reading habits. They were varied. I went through an H G Wells phase and one where only the works of Kingsley Amis would do. (Why did everything after Lucky Jim seem increasingly to be about fat academics having affairs?). Edinburgh summers tended to be dry and bright. A chapter of The Time Machine or Take a Girl Like You could be devoured as I lay on the grass on the Braid Hills with my bicycle at my side.

Neither did the festival get a look-in last week. I enjoyed the buzz from the multitudes of visitors and performers, but didn't actually go and see anything. I can't remember why. It wasn't through lack of awareness of shows. Normally, a walk through Edinburgh (Grassmarket excepted) would only be interrupted by the guy with the round glasses and combat jacket intoning "Socialist Wehhkah! Socialist Wehhkah!" from his pitch at the bottom of the North Bridge.

In festival time, every second person was thrusting a leaflet at you. I will be forever in the dark as to what went on in shows with titles such as A Back Passage to India, though in later years I did catch a few revues, usually featuring four or five posh medics who thought that being at Cambridge automatically made them funny.

So much humour nowadays seems single-entendre. I have recently taken refuge in a CD containing several episodes of Round the Horne. I have a schoolfriend to thank for introducing me to this festival of censor-beating innuendo from the Sixties. (You met him on the back page. Inexplicably, he liked Max Boyce as well).

Perhaps a liking for double-entendres is a physicist thing. We do something similar in the subject all the time when we adopt existing words for our own purposes. Electrons may not be too rude to talk about in terms of what they actually are but, because we don't know what they actually are, we have to describe the way they behave using existing concepts such as particles and waves. I used to call physics the Big Metaphor. Maybe the Big Innuendo is a more accurate name.

In all likelihood, a fondness for double entendres has no connection whatsoever with being a physicist. I am probably one of the few (as Kenneth Horne said of Kenneth Williams when the latter was playing a camp Battle of Britain fighter pilot).

Gregor Steele nadgered his cordwangle while futtock-grunting in the hot, dry summer of 1981.

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