Monday 21 November 2022

Morton and Thomas: Workers

 Partick Kurp writes today about J.B. Morton, best known to English readers as 'Beachcomber', whose humorous newspaper columns ran for half a century in the Daily Express. I must have read a few of them towards the end of his long career, but I remember him chiefly for the radio and TV adaptations of his work, which did not much amuse me. Evelyn Waugh said he had 'the greatest comic fertility of any Englishman', and he certainly created a huge repertory company of comic characters for his columns – Mr Justice Cocklecarrot and the 12 litigious red-bearded dwarves, Dr Strabismus of Utrecht (Whom God Preserve), Captain Foulenough, Roland Milk (a poet), Lord Shortcake, Dr  Smart-Alick, Prodnose, and countless others – but his kind of humour, prefiguring The Goon Show, is really not to my taste (nor is The Goon Show). For American readers, I imagine, the whole world of Beachcomber would be almost entirely incomprehensible. There is a great story about Morton, though. A bit of a prankster, he once covered Virginia Woolf's doorstep with dozens of quart bottles of brown ale (note for American readers: this was the most proletarian of English drinks). Hats off to him for that. 
  Patrick (as well as posting the excellent comic poem, 'Tripe') speaks admiringly of Morton's phenomenal work rate. This set me thinking of Edward Thomas's Stakhanovite labours as a hack writer, desperately trying to support his family, before Robert Frost and the war made a poet of him. Jean Moorcroft Wilson, in her biography, estimates that, for 14 gruelling years, Thomas was writing book reviews – substantial book reviews – at the rate of one every three  days. And between 1910 and the beginning of 1913, while he was still churning out the reviews, thirteen books were published under his name. They don't make them like Thomas – or Morton – any more. 

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