With Parliament in convulsions over Brexit, Pissed-off Toff offers some much-needed light relief on the political front.
As Brexit crawls in agony towards its conclusion, and as our country witnesses divisions and animosity rarely seen since the Civil War, it is difficult not to look across the Channel to the period immediately preceding the French Revolution. “Politics now became of all-consuming interest,” writes Christopher Hibbert in the prologue to his history of that momentous event. Or take the English gentleman-farmer Arthur Young, travelling in France on the very eve of the Revolution:
“I went to the Palais Royal [in Paris] to see what new [pamphlets] were published […] every hour produces something new […] thirteen came out today, sixteen yesterday and ninety-two last week […] it is easy to conceive the spirit that must be raised among the people […] [In] the coffee-houses of the Palais Royal […] orators harangue each his little audience. The eagerness with which they are heard, and the thunder of applause they receive for every sentiment of more than common hardiness […] cannot easily be imagined.”
Here, indeed, was a nation consumed by politics. Years later my ancestor Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, one of the great statesmen of all time, famously wrote that “Celui qui n’a pas vécu avant la Révolution ne connaît pas la douceur de vivre et ne peut imaginer ce qu’il peut y avoir de bonheur dans la vie.” (Roughly: Those who were not alive before the Revolution do not know how sweet and happy life can be.) He was referring, in large part, to the fact that the poison of politics had not yet seeped into every aspect of life.
Which brings us to the political convulsions of our own time, with friendships and families torn apart by Brexit, while rolling TV news stirs up passions still further. It is sending us all mad. Time, therefore, for a little political comedy of the sort which, I hope, will elicit a smile or two …
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I direct my readers to an interview of Robert Morley, appearing in 1969 on the chat show of the then-famous but now-forgotten DJ and TV presenter Simon Dee, whose knack for falling out with his employers led to him ending up as a bus driver. Not only is the eight-minute interview (YouTube link below) most enjoyable in its own right, but as I watched it I realised that Morley strongly reminded me of someone familiar. Who was it? It eluded me. Then: Ah! Of course! It was Boris Johnson.
Firstly, the looks. Both have the same fleshy lips; the same close-set eyes slanting downwards at the sides; the same irregular, pointed teeth. And of course a certain jowliness, more marked in one than in the other.
More importantly, perhaps, the style and mannerisms. Note, in particular, how Morley so often looks away from the interviewer, his eyes seeking out one knows not what. The audience, perhaps. Or applause? It isn’t exactly evasive; yet one feels that he is not engaging with Dee; that he is performing. Which brings us to the crux of the matter. What Johnson and Morley have in common is not just a striking similarity in looks, voice, style and mannerisms … but the fact that both are consummate performers, that both put on a jolly good show; whilst as for what lies beneath, one can only guess.
Not that any of this detracts from the appeal of Johnson as far as I am concerned. I couldn’t care less if he is an actor and a comedian … or, as a powerful Remainer éminence grise put it to me, a ‘charlatan’. So what if he is? If he takes us out of the doomed Brussels-based Soviet Union on 31 October, he will be a fully-fledged hero in my book. Charlatan or not.
Here, in any case, is the link to a YouTube video which is good for a laugh in these increasingly unfunny times:
Oh, and a last thought. Not only do Robert Morley and Boris Johnson resemble each other uncannily in numerous ways, but as Morley explains at length, he views life as a gamble. And now we see Johnson, too, embarked on the gamble of a lifetime …