Monday, 19 March 2012

Hoffnung

Over on the Dabbler, under Mahlerman's Sunday post on Unserious Music, Worm mentions the once very famous and popular Gerard Hoffnung. That name took me right back to my boyhood. One of my uncles had a recording of Hoffnung's legendary stand-up (and sway about) performance in front of a notably well lubricated Oxford Union audience. This was the huge comedy hit of its day, and my uncle and father would laugh almost as uproariously as the Oxford audience as they listened to Hoffnung in full flow - sounding, as ever, like the most bufferish of old buffers, though he was a young man. It's a tour de force, and, though something of a period piece, still worth a listen - his comic timing is quite extraordinary.
Hoffnung's charming little books of music-themed cartoons sold very well - it's impossible not to like them - and still turn up quite often in charity shops. The musical performances he staged were perhaps rather laboured affairs, as such minglings of comedy and 'serious music' tend to be. But his most interesting legacy, I think, are his recorded interviews with an urbane Canadian called Charles Richardson. Hoffnung, his bufferish persona honed to perfection, proves the most impossible of interviewees (think Peter Cook's Arthur Streeb-Greebling and then some), offering rambling irrelevant 'answers', interrupting his hapless interviewer, taking offence at innocuous pleasantries and indignantly telling Richardson to mind his own business when pressed for anything resembling an answer. The result is something at once very funny and way ahead of its time. Have a listen here...

7 comments:

  1. Wow thanks for this nige, I will have a proper listen this evening on my home computer! Yes it was Hoffnung in Oxford that our music teacher used to play to us on days like the last day of term when we were already demob happy and not up to doing any real work.

    These days I don't suppose any children at all are told about Hoffnung or even Victor Borge ('The World's Funniest Man TM')

    Or Molesworth for that matter. All of these things would seem utterly incomprehensible to a modern child I should imagine. Not because they are any thicker per se, but because they probably have no way to relate to things like Concertos, Latin, medieval history and boarding school domitories

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    1. The bizarre thing is worm, the one item they might be familiar with at least at second-hand, is the boarding school dorm. Hogwarts is such a throwback.

      For myself, I was raised on Jennings and Derbishire and the hallowed halls of Linbury Court prep

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    2. Worm I wonder if you went to school in Oxfordshire too? One of my treasured memories is of our music teacher (who I never remember otherwise having much of a sense of humour) playing us the Hoffnung's Irish Bricklayer's letter/lament (on record of course in those days) as an end of term "treat". Still today the phrases like "I must have lost my presence of mind" make me smile. I had no idea he died so young though - I thought he was ancient then!

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  2. It's wonderful to be reminded of the brilliance of this young man; dead at 33. Young man? 33? Hard to believe. I always felt I was listening to an elderly gent. I remember on miserable, wet Sunday lunchtimes in the fifties being forced indoors and listening to Jean Metcalfe comparing Two-Way Family Favourites, a programme linking, through messages and recordings, British Forces in Germany and Cyprus with their families at home. I vaguely remember, after Ella, Sinatra, Mantovani, Holiday, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Crosby, Eddie Calvert and his trumpet, Jean announcing: “Mrs Wiggins in Bognor has requested anything, absolutely anything, by Gerard Hoffnung for her son, Corporal Arnold Wiggins based in Osnabruck. And here is the said Mr Hoffnung with......” It was usually the highlight of the programme. Well I thought so, and Mrs Wiggins and Arnold certainly thought so.

    Thanks, Nige. I'm off to Amazon to see if they have any classic Hoffnung.

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  3. The BBC Radio Collection has (or had?) a fine Hoffnung anthology on CD, including Charles Richardson interviews and, of course, the Oxford Union.

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  4. Absolutely brilliant - we'll have to cross-post this at The Dabbler..

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