John Park, 32 the Loaning, Motherwell, North Lanarkshire, Strathclyde, Scotland, U.K. ML1 3HE
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Gyles Brandreth has spent 50 years collecting the world's wittiest quotes. Here he reveals his favourites.
32 the Loaning.
Motherwell ML1 3HE
As a member of parliament, back in the nineties, I knew I didn't think much of my constituents. But in 1997, when the general election came along, It was a bit of a shock to find the feeling was entirely mutual. I lost my seat. I lost my job. And I have been looking for another one -- the right job -- ever since. At last I think I have found it. I am proud to tell you that I am the newly appointed editor of the Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotations. I reckon it is the job I was born to do. For more than 50 years I have been messing about in quotes. I suppose I have always had a short attention span and an eye and ear for the pithy, witty and wise. At school I discovered the detective stories of Dorothy L Sayers and her hero, the aristocrat sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey, became an early role model. In Have his Carcase (1932), Sayers heard Lord Peter confess: 'I always have a quotation for everything -- It saves original thinking' I could not have put it better myself. I have been collecting quotations actively since the age of 11. In the early days, I copied them out, by the dozen, in small blue notebooks. The very first to feature in my childhood anthology, was a favourite of my father's. It's a line from the author Saki's novel, Reginald (1932): 'The cook was a good cook, as cooks go, she went' As a small boy I was tickled pink by the cleverness of Saki's wordplay. I sill am. What makes a quotation worth noting -- and collecting -- is it's quotability. According to my Dad, a quotable quotation has to pass several tests. Is it memorable?. Do you want to pass it on to others? When I first started collecting quotations it was just for the fun of them, but quickly I began to realise how useful they could be. I used them in school essays to give my prose a bit of a lift. Read on and you'll find that's a knack that not deserted me. I used them in conversations in the hope of raising a laugh. (If ever you have heard me the radio playing Just a Minute, you will know that old habits die hard) I used them in school debates to give my schoolboy utterances a rhetorical flourish. By the time I got to uni in the late 60's, and was following hopefully, in the footsteps of the likes of Edward Heath and Tony Benn as president of the Oxford Union. I don't think I had an original thought in my head. I was just a mass of other men/s gems. And as well as my notebooks crammed with random jottings from tthe great and the good. I know had several boxes of cards featuring quips arranged alphabetically by subject and Author and carefully cross indexed. It was at Oxford that I started to meet some of the people I was quoting. Clement Freud turned up at the Union and told us : "If you give up smoking, drinking and women, you don't live longer. It just seems longer. from then on I started collecting famous people as well as there memorable quotes. I reckon there is almost no one who was born over the past one hundred years and who is quoted in the Dictionary whom I have not met. T.S. Eliot, Margaret Thatcher, Bill Clinton, Joan Rivers, Peter Ustinov, the Queen -- I've known them all. Well, I've shaken their hands. It's a start. You might not think that the Queen is a bundle of laughs, but you would be surprised. Not only does her Majesty do a wicked George Formby impression (truly, the queen can sing 'When I'm cleaning the winders' in a perfect Lancastrian accent), she is also a dab hand the quick repartee. At a dull Football match final, when asked if anyone had played well she replied "Yes, the band" Joan rivers is another small lady in he 80s who packs a punch "It's that long since I've had sex" says Joan "I've forgotten who ties up whom". I had lunch in New York with the renowned wit Quentin Crisp days before he died aged 90. The stately homo of England, as he described himself , talked non-stop for about two hours, repeating his most famous lines as if they were being new minted just for me. He said "If at first you don't succeed, failure may be your style. In my time, I have been lucky enough to know the professional funny men and women of several generations. When I was in my 20s, I was befriended by the comedian Cyril Fletcher. He is in the Dictionary with this wisecrack "A fool and his money are easily parted. What I want to know is how they got together in the first place. Through Cyril I got to meet a generation of entertainers -- Arthur Askey, Tommy Trinder, Ted Ray who began their careers in music hall and variety. Now I find I am friends with raft of younger comics -- Jack Whitehall, David Mitchell, Russell Kane, John Bishop, -- Who weren't even when I first played in working men's clubs in Manchester as a support to Bernard Manning, and shared a dressing room with the stripper. Manning was very funny, but sexist, racist, and quite unquotable. My friend, the comedian Milton Jones, is not always politically correct, but his one liners don't give offence. "Militant feminists" says Milton, "I can take my hat off to them. They don't like that" Comedians do feature in the Dictionary, of course, and some of them get more credit than is perhaps their due. Bob Hope said funny things -- "you know your getting old when the candles cost more than the cake" -- but how many of them did he think of himself? Often a comedians scriptwriter (or, indeed, a politicians) is a shadowy figure whose name is destined never to be known. It was the playwright Ronald Millar who wrote Margaret Thatcher's famous line : "The lady's is not for turning" Sometimes, it is simply impossible to discover "who said it" and "Who said it first. Here is a gag I like "My dad used to say "always fight fire with fire", Which is probably why he got thrown out of the fire brigade. Who said it first?. Some believe it was Peter Kay, others are adamant if was Harry Hill. Do you toss a coin to find the truth?. If you want to discover who said what and when, don't think the web has all the answers. It doesn't. I wanted to include this line in the Dictionary "Under pressure, people admit to murder, setting fire to the village church, or robbing a bank, but never to being bores" On the world wide web, and elsewhere, the quote is credited to Elsa Maxwell, 1883 - 1963, American Columnist and hostess. But did she actually say it? And if so, when. where and to whom. Just because something is repeated ad nauseam on the web does not mean that it is true. The line is in the Dictionary because I like it, but it appears with the caveat that is attributed to Mrs Maxwell. When a quotation is of doubtful origin, we make that clear. When we absolutely don't know who said it first, but can't resist it, we give credit to a character called "anonymous" I do, however, know for sure who said "I am Anglo-Welsh". My parents were Anglo-Welsh. In fact, my parents burnt down their own cottage, because it was me. David Cameron heard me say it and asked me if I could come up with odd funny line for his speeches. I have done my best for him over the years, but it's only his own original lines that appear in the Dictionary. When the Prime Minister was asked for his favourite political joke, he answered "Nick Clegg". That's in. But it's Boris Johnston who wins the prize for the sharpest description of the deputy Prime Minister and Lib Dem leader. Like some cut price edition of David Cameron hastily knocked off by a Shanghai sweatshop to satisfy unexpected demand. As you can tell I've had fun editing the Dictionary. "Work is more fun than fun" said Noel Coward. I hope I have turned up some unexpected gems. I have certainly many more women in the new edition and they are among the cheekiest contributors. This Maueer Lipman "What's the worst thing about oral sex? the view" This is Victoria Wood "I thought coq au vin was sex in the back of a lorry. On that note I had better sign off. I would say have a nice day, but when someone said that to Peter Ustinov he replied "Thank you, but I have other plans" That's the joy of this type of work. I all ways have a quotation for everything -- it saves original thinking.
John Park Motherwell
When I started out as a professional professional public speaker 40 years ago, sexist and racist jokes were common place. I shared a stage with Bernard Manning, who was very funny (and rather nice), but his material was appalling. I also shared a platform with a lovely black comedian called Charlie Williams whose act included lots of self depreciating jokes that were positively racist. "If you don't laugh," he'd say "I'll move in next to you." Everyone roared. That was then. Happily, this is now. And politically correctness means that racist and sexist humour is now wholly, and rightly, unacceptable. Jokes at the expense of fat people are taboo now, too. Oddly, ageist humour is tolerated. My friend Nicolas Parkinson is 92 and we are panellists on Just A Minute regularly make fun of his maturity. I suppose if he weren't completely on top of his game we wouldn't.