Monday 24 February 2014

From Geoffrey Hill to Call My Bluff

Browsing last night in Geoffrey Hill's Mercian Hymns, I noticed that some of them have footnotes  - most of which are not exactly illuminating. But the note to Hymn IV is a beauty. Here's the Hymn:

'I was invested in mother-earth, the crypt of roots
and endings. Child’s-play. I abode there, bided my
time: where the mole

shouldered the clogged wheel, his gold solidus; where
dry-dust badgers thronged the Roman flues, the
long-unlooked-for mansions of our tribe.'

And here's the footnote:

'"I was invested in mother-earth." To the best of my recollection, the expression 'to invest in mother earth' was the felicitous (and correct) definition of  'yird' given by Mr Michael Hordern in the programme Call My Bluff televised on BBC2 on Thursday January 29th 1970.'

Call My Bluff! This was, in its late Sixties/ early Seventies prime, one of the  most enjoyable programmes on TV. It had a simple format: two teams of three each had to offer definitions of wildly obscure words, only one of which was genuine. In the show's golden age, the chairman was the urbane king of the comb-over Robert Robinson, the team captains were the puckish Arthur Marshall (whose memoir Life's Rich Pageant is well worth a look - as mentioned here) and the languid humorist Frank Muir, whose pal Patrick Campbell was also a fixture on the show. Campbell, an Irish aristo (the 3rd Baron Glenavy) and prolific writer of humorous columns, was even taller than Muir and every bit as languid. A cheery soul, he was afflicted with a stammer that often made it hard for him to get started; he would slap himself on the knee and urge himself to 'Come along! Come along!' Call My Bluff was extremely jolly, utterly civilised, often very funny and genuinely informative - and it came with panellists whose like would never be seen on today's TV (if indeed their like still exists). It's nice to think of Geoffrey Hill watching it, notebook in hand...


  1. The only clip of the RR version I could find on YouTube was of an episode in which one of the panellists was Noel Edmonds, described by Frank Muir as "DJ and motor racer". Plus ça change.

  2. Dear me - that must have lowered the tone...

  3. It was sublime. Similar but on the whole less 1930's varsity was "My Music". With the wonderful Robin Ray camply identifying the Brahms Intermezzo hammered out on wooden keyboard with no strings; and the rather UKIP presenter Steve Race asking absurdly pretentious questions of the invariably brilliant Joyce Grenfell.

    Now its all lesbians baking cakes, one cant help think that it isn't necessarily an improvement.

    1. A bit harsh about Steve Race whom I still miss. He presented My Music on the radio which had teams of Dennis Norden and Ian Wallace against Frank Muir and John Whose Second Name I Forget but was a wonderful whistler. The tv programme, although somewhat similar, wasn't called My Music and was introduced by Someone Whose Second Name is a Mystery but whose first might have been Joseph and who thumped out the silent tunes on the wonderful Dummy Piano.

  4. Alan Coren was good on Call My Bluff (as sometimes happily happens when a person of slightly elusive or arcane talents finds a format perfectly suited to them, eg. Paul Merton on Just a Minute. (And in fact Just a Minute is also the perfect-shaped hole for that very strange peg Gyles Brandreth).)

    Is it my imagination or was Rod Liddle also a fixture for a while?

    The boardgame Balderdash based on the same concept is great fun.

  5. My god you're right Brit - Rod Liddle was on Bluff towards the end. It was pretty feeble in its latter days, alas. Coren was just brilliant whatever show he was on - he even made the News Quiz entertaining...
    As for My Music - yes,what a gem that was. Imagine a producer pitching that format now - and it was a big-rating popular show in its time. Remember Bernard Levin and his unfailing recall of K numbers!

  6. Sadly brit you are right in that its quite impossible to imagine pitched either of those shows or Robert Robinson's other hit 'Ask The Family' in the early 21st century. And as you say they were popular and long running in their time.

    Ahhhhh Levin and the K numbers.... That really was a different century and a different televisual world.

  7. John the wonderful whistler? Hmmm its a long time ago but somewhere at the back of my mind lurks the name John Julius Norwich who I think was otherwise known as John Julius Cooper, 2nd Viscount Norwich.

    But I'm unsure if he was the whistler but he was certainly a frequent panellist on that school of BBC 'quiz' show.

  8. John Amis was the whistler. An interesting man, who died last year.

  9. Ah yes, John Julius Norwich - a Cooper indeed, son of Duff Cooper, who to his shame had a hand in condemning Wodehouse as a Nazi apologist. JJ was a stalwart of various civilised panel games and v likely turned up on My Music. He was a regular on Round Britain Quiz, and took over as host of My Word! from none other than John Arlott. My Word!, which I loved in my formative years, had the great Frank Muir and Denis Norden as team captains. They were also of course founder panellists on My Music.