Monday, 23 May 2016

Look Back in Bangor

In the recent broadcast of Look Back in Anger I noticed two things (apart from the performance of wossname of course):
  • Use  of the expression "the $64 question"
  • Use of the expression "the Big Bang" to refer to a possible nuclear holocaust

The $64 Question

This has been the victim of hyperinflation. It dates back to the American radio show Take It Or Leave It first broadcast in 1949, based on a number of questions with prizes starting at $1 and doubling in each subsequent round. After each successful answer, the contestant was offered the chance to Take It Or Leave it? The big prize was $64. that article goes on:
In 1947, the series switched to NBC, hosted at various times by Baker, Garry Moore (1947–49), Eddie Cantor (1949–50) and Jack Paar (beginning June 11, 1950). On September 10, 1950, the title of Take It or Leave It was changed to The $64 Question. Paar continued as host, followed by Baker (March–December 1951) and Paar (back on December 1951). The series continued on NBC Radio until June 1, 1952
A very similar format was first broadcast in the UK in 1955 with the title Double Your Money, but instead of the rather crude demand "Take It Or Leave It" the catchphrase was a polite question: "Do You Want To Go On?".  If memory serves me correctly, the neat doubling was suspended after £64 though, and the subsequent prizes then dropped to £125 before resuming that stately binary progress on to £1000. (I was going to write £1000.00, but in fact  it was more like £1,000 0s. 0d.)

The Big Bang

Fred Hoyle coined the expression Big Bang on a BBC broadcast in 1949. Look Back in Anger post-dated that by six or seven years but the adoption of the cosmological usage can't have caught on very quickly as Jimmy Porter's reference was obviously to annihilation rather than creation.

<autobiographical_note date_range="1968-9">
Jimmy Porter clearly had no thoughts of stardom. My own were thoughts rather of cometdom. It centred on an amateur production of Iolanthe (which must have taken place during my Lower VIth, as in those days the full frenzy of Thinking About the Future was held back until the Upper VIth (rather than, as in our own enlightened times, at Primary School [Oh Christ, that ever this should be! as Coleridge put it –  they'll be using kids as chimney-sweeps next!]). 
My own 42nd Street dream centred on the Sergeant-at-Arms in Iolanthe. I was a peer, but I dreamt of  standing in at the last minute for the fellow bass who had that part – not a huge one (I wasn't that ambitious –  he had one song, at the beginning of Act Two (in that YouTube clip the song starts after about 1 min.), as I remember: "the ice-cream slot", as it was archly referred to among the wiseacres of the Cecilian Players [not the chamber ensemble, an amateur operatic society based in SW London in the 1960s and '70s] – the first turn after the interval, when the audience are at their least attentive).  I was going to "Go out there an unknown and come back a st... well, a bit-part player".
No amateur production of a G&S operetta is complete without a topical reference. Ours was in the second  verse:
When in that House MPs divide 
If they've a brain and cerebellum too 
They have to leave that brain outside 
And vote as Harold Wilson tells 'em to
(Heur heur, geddit?)
W. S.  Gilbert wrote And vote just as their leaders tell 'em to, but our version spoiled the rhyme for the sake of a not very relevant topical reference. The director and the Musical Director were both teachers at my school, and I thought – as any self-respecting sixth-former would –  they made the mistake because they were just stupid. It would have been much better, I thought at the time, as And vote as Ted and 'arold  tell 'em to. Not only does it preserve the rhyme, but it refers to the sort of  mindless two-party situation that Gilbert was writing about. I was going to sing my version, thus at one fell swoop both shaking the foundations of the amateur operetta world by my brilliant performance and improving the line (which would thereafter be adopted for the rest of the run).
On reflection nearly fifty years later, I've realized – though there's no way I can check – that the writer of this ad lib  did not just have a tin ear (as far as the rhyme was concerned) but was also probably (ironically, in the context) a Tory.* 

Well – time for a bit of amateur plumbing.

* The MPs Edward Heath (Conservative) and Harold Wilson (Labour) exchanged the position of Prime Minister several times. Fans of The Beatles may have noted the backing vocals singing "Mr Wilson" and "Mr Heath' in George Harrison's Taxman.

PS Reportedly imitation pot sherd has features of two genres – (4-4)

Update 2016.05.23.16:00 – Added esprit d'escalier in blue

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