Saturday, 2 August 2008

I SWEAR BY ALMIGHTY WATERSHED.....................

I was the first broadcaster in Britain to indecently expose myself on television. My first TV appearance, which only makes it worse.
It is no excuse to say I did so in the company of a distinguished homeopathic doctor and a rather prim friend, a scholarly man of great dignity. What made things even worse is that the film went on to win awards all over the world.

It was unintentional and a sly ploy by the man who made the film, Ray Gosling, who is as near as I have come to working with a broadcasting genius. It was bad enough that in his commentary he compared us to Ratty, Mole and the Badger which almost caused a rift between the scholar and me over which one of us was Badger.

The subject of this odd little film was “Chester” and we had been hours on a canal barge chatting, telling stories and drinking oceans of beer. The moment filming was over, as we thought, we leapt from the barge to rid ourselves of the beer.

Not only did Gosling film us lined up against a convenient wall; he overlaid a soundtrack in which we appeared to be singing “Chest-er Song at Twilight”.

The resultant abuse not only filled two pages of the local paper; it was gleefully reported in the national press and the subject of a Private Eye sneer. Years later Gosling reported that our song was part of a tape which played on a loop in the gentleman’s lavatory of a pub near the new Manchester Crown Court

Goodness knows what our critics would have thought of the BBC mandarin who I heard aver on “Feedback” that swearing on air was acceptable at certain times from anyone and at any time by certain broadcasters.

It is an odd concept.

Long ago when the world was grown up, there were jocks and taffs, eyeties and micks, sambos and sheenies, krauts and Yorkshire Tykes. A Jew was a yid; I called my best friend, who was black, "Sambo" and he called me "Specky Four Eyes". The Chinese were Chinks; Tiddlywinks, even. But if you said “bloody” in front of a woman there was hell to play (which itself is a phrase I would not have dared use on radio when I started broadcasting forty years ago). Today I could get the sack for using such racial labels as the ones I listed. A brave broadcaster said recently that so many of the top jobs in broadcasting are held by homosexuals that an anti-gay joke would mean the end of a comic's broadcasting career. Another odd concept since it is still possible to make anti-heterosexual jests. Though I was delighted to see the gollywog is back in the shops. Indeed my wife bought me one which I treasure. Surprising in all the fuss that innocent and very lovable doll created that no one complained of the various unflattering white dolls of the time

"Yid" still shocks. Yet it is merely a contraction of the respectable "Yiddish". "Niger" is the Latin for black and strangely "nigger" is used widely by blacks themselves.

Alas, obscenities are the every day currency of radio and TV, and only old codgers like me get upset. Readers of my Daily Post column used to get very exercised at the use of “Welshing” as a verb. Today it is racial abuse. In the Middle Ages it was polite coinage. At that time English law was only enforceable in the castle towns in Wales where Englishmen traded. The countryside was governed by ancient Welsh law, a custom which survives in names like Welsh Frankton. An English debtor could evade his creditors by going to live outside the town. He was said to have “Welshed”.

“Welshing” insulted the English, not the Welsh.

Unacceptable language is a matter of fashion. The same BBC mandarin said that young people did not worry about swearing. My wife had to leave a ladies' football team because she could not take the obscene language the girls routinely used. Strangely when the BBC ran a poll the 897 people asked were more worried about the words “spastic” and “whore”than common swear words. The poll rated the “c” word as the most extreme expletive. The “f” word was in third place, after “”, an unhappy American import.

Surprisingly, it wasn't bad language that was unacceptable but the time of night it is used. To adapt Gertrude Stein, surely “An F is an F is an F”?

Nine out of ten adults in all age groups polled felt that bad language was unwelcome, when they were listening with children.
Presumably they have never travelled on a school bus. Nor it seems do they object to the mass slaughter, mindless violence and sexual innuendo which is basic television fare.

Young people worry less about this issue than older people. Why should that be? Is it because the use of coarse language is bad manners and young people dont have any manners at all?

Surprisingly, "wanker" and "bastard" came fourth and fifth in the severity poll. The first wasn't even considered swearing in my day and the state of bastardy is socially quite acceptable. Why should the nouns shock? Why should language be good or bad depending on the time of day it is used - and, more than that, the context? People accept it, we are told, in violent films, comedies and documentaries.
Surely if language is unacceptable the time it is spoken is irrelevant?

My father’s favourite swear words were “bloody black gaiters” and I too find it very satisfying as an expression of surprise. My own favourite is "frass", which, as I am sure you know, is the scientific name for the body waste of a butterfly. The nearest my wife gets to swearing is "Horrors". On one occasion when another reporter put a plastic spider on her desk "Horrors" was not sufficient to express her outrage.
She said "Multiple Horrors".

There are other assemblies of letters describing bodily functions which do relieve the tensions when used. but a lexicon of respectable swear words is needed. A list of new words which have no other purpose than relieving tensions. A form of psychologically satisfying scrabble is what I have in mind.

Most of the non-blasphemous swear words refer either to bodily parts or functions. It is quite surprising how many are corruptions of Saxon. The Normans considered Saxon a very inferior language and it was never used in polite society. Is our distaste for swear words merely vestigal political correctness and snobbery?


(from reader Ken Ashton)
SUN – Police were called to a supermarket in West Sussex when two pensioners on mobility scooters had a row about money. They were
crashing into each other in the fruit and veg aisle. ‘They were ramming each other like dodgems,’ said a supervisor.

TIMES – A driver who witnessed a car crash in Belchamp Otten, Essex, let a young girl sit in his car while awaiting the ambulance. When
paramedics arrived, they considered the girl may have severe spinal injuries and the only safe way to rescue her was to cut off the roof
of the friendly motorist’s car. He was not amused.

PS: Much amused at the cries of horror which have gone up over China’s action in imprisoning agitators during the Olympic Games.
At least they will be spared watching them on TV.
When the investiture of the Prince of Wales was held in Caernarvon I was warned by the Special Branch who had got it into their heads I was a Welsh terrorist that I would be arrested if I was found within three miles of the city. Some genuine, if deeply comic, nationalists were actually put in prison for fear they would disturb the Princely Peace.