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On Seeing A Joke
by [?]

I am confident that distinguished Englishmen will behave in the spirit of Mr Justice Wylie, when there is an outbreak of humour among the English police. Mr Justice Darling will, no doubt, enjoy himself hugely on the day on which an armed policeman first holds up his motor-car, and addresses him: “‘Ullo, you blasted old Bolshevik, come off the perch, and quick about it, and put up the ‘Idden ‘And!” There are some judges who would complain to the Home Office, if such a thing happened to them. Mr Justice Darling, however, has a keen sense of humour. I feel certain that on arriving in Court after his experiences he would tell the story with great glee. He would turn up his face sideways, as he does when he is amused, and say to the jury: “A most amusing thing happened to me this morning, by the way …” There is no end, indeed, to the directions in which a police force saturated with the Greenwoodian sense of fun might add to the gaiety of nations. They might arm themselves with squirts, and laughing Cabinet ministers would have to duck as they passed down Whitehall in order to avoid a drenching. Pluffing peas at the bishops on their way to the House of Lords would also be good sport, so long as they did not really hurt any of them. To bash the Lord Chancellor’s hat over his eyes would be going too far, as it involves a money loss, but a harmless blow on the crown with a bladder would be rather amusing. It would also be amusing if a number of policemen were told off to greet Mr Lloyd George with cries of “Welsh attorney,” and to chaff him with genial scurrilities on his arrival at the House. If these things happened, there are killjoys, I know, who would immediately set up a clamour for the restoration of discipline in the police force. Mr Lloyd George, however, has always been a man who can not only make a joke but take one, and I am sure that he at least would defend the democratic right of the policeman to a bit of chaff.

Nor would I confine the right of chaff to the police force. I would make it universal. I should like to see it introduced into the Church itself. Even the dullest sermon would become entertaining if the verger had the right and the habit of interpolating such remarks as: “Cheese it, Pussyfoot!” or “Ring off, you bleedin’ old bore, ring off!” There has been too little of this sort of popular raillery in recent years. The bus-drivers used to be past masters at it, poking their quiet fun impartially at their fellow-drivers and ordinary citizens. Whether it is that the drivers of motor-buses realise that no joke could be heard above the din, or whether it is that they feel as ill-tempered as they look, their arrival has made fatal inroads on the geniality of London. An artist with uncut hair can still awaken a spark of the old wit if he goes down a back street, and women and children will revive for his benefit the venerable witticism: “Get your hair cut!” But, generally speaking, there has been a notable decline in the humours of insult within living memory. The Germans, always fond of a joke, made an effort to revive it during the war. It was a common thing for them, we are told, on capturing a prisoner, to address him as “Schweinhund” or “Verdammte Engl�nder,” or by some other good-humoured phrase of the same kind. I regret to say that some Englishmen were so deficient in the sense of humour that, instead of taking this in the spirit in which it was offered, they bitterly resented it. I cannot, indeed, recall a single instance of an Englishman who properly appreciated the joke of being called a “Schweinhund” by a man he had never seen before. You will seek in vain through the literature of prisoners of war for a returned soldier who tells the story of the names he was called with the glee that it deserves. And yet, no doubt, the Germans enjoyed the joke thoroughly, and would have been surprised to find it quoted in the Observer as an example of the decadence of the German Army.