Thursday, 19 March 2009

Michael Bentine, Comic Genius

Michael Bentine

A typical Olde Englishe pub. Low beams and a smoke-darkened plaster ceiling are hung with horse-brasses and decorated with old pewter tankards and rusty horse-shoes.
The pub is filled with yeomen in their traditional garb of flannel shirts and knotted red-spotted handkerchiefs, while their moleskin trousers are held up above their yeoman boots with knotted string. One or two of the local yeomen are holding ten foot poles, gaily painted with stripes. Behind the bar is a purple-nosed, bloated landlord and a cheerful, buxom barmaid, giggling away and slapping the odd rustic whose questing hands stray over the contours of her fulsome figure.
The chatter is incoherently `Mummerset , with the lilting burr of the south-western counties of 'Olde Englande'. It is loudly animated and only interrupted by the heavy slurps of `rough' cider that is being consumed by the gallon. The bar is decorated with bunting, and a large sign which reads `Annual Drats Match' hangs prominently in one corner. Into the bar comes a stranger and the buzz of cheerful banter ceases as though cut off with a knife. The newcomer is obviously a 'Townee'.

STRANGER: Good evening! (He walks up to the bar and addresses the waistcoated bulky figure in shirt-sleeves behind the beer pumps) Are you the landlord?
LANDLORD: Ah! And what if I am?
STRANGER: I'm Charles Berkeley, from the BBC. (He looks round haughtily)

(A reverent murmur of appropriate awe comes from the customers)

LANDLORD: (Thawing slightly) Oh! Be you now! And what brings 'ee to these 'ere parts of ourn?
BERKELEY: I'm surveying the local country pubs for a programme we're doing on pub-games and sports, and I see by the local paper that your pub, 'The Ruptured Pig', specializes in the game of drats.
LANDLORD: (Amid proud cries and murmurs of assent) Ah, drats! The Game of Games! Greatest pub-game in Olde Englande!

(Cries of Ah! Ooh! Ee! 'Er be that! Drats - 'mazin' game, noble, aah 'tis, etc.)

BERKELEY: Have you been playing drats for long?

(This convulses the landlord who chortles happily amid general guffaws of cidery laughter)

LANDLORD: Aah! Oh! Ho! Ho! Ho! Oh! Ah! (He goes on laughing heartily till his eyes water and he is forced to wipe them on his spotted handkerchief. He makes up for the liquid tears with a hearty swig of cider) Ho! Ho! Ho! (Pause) ... or even longer!

(General cries of hearty rural laughter and rustic mirth ending with massed swigs of cider and the concerted response:)

ALL IN BAR: Or even longer! Ah!

(The BBC man is a bit confused but presses on regardless)

BERKELEY: I wonder if you could explain the game of drats to me? So I can get some idea of how it's played. I'll record you.

(The landlord has now come out from behind the bar and stands revealed in high-braced and massively-belted corduroys and heavy boots, just like his customers'. Obviously he enjoys great respect from his patrons as an authority on drats)

LANDLORD: Oh! Ah, drats! 'Er be a noble sport! Sport of kings, dukes, earls and the loike, 'er be.
VARIOUS VOICES: Ah, you tell 'em, Tom! Drats! Cor bless my bedsocks! You tell 'em, Tom!
LANDLORD: Now drats! That is to say, the Great Game ... (His eyes are raised reverently and the yeomen take off their hats) has been goin' on 'ere at the Ruptured Pig for yearn! And yearn! And yearn! And yearn! And yearn! And yearn!

(Suddenly they all stop yearning' and together take a long pull at their cider, emptying their glasses)

ALL: Ah! Yearn!
LANDLORD: (Pointedly) They're dry! (Pronounced `droi')
BERKELEY: (A bit more confused) Eh?
LANDLORD: Droi! Now you was sayin', sir! (He breathes meaningfully into the BBC man's face)
BERKELEY: (Getting the point) First, I insist on drinks all round.

(In a swirl of activity, they refill their glasses and the atmosphere further relaxes)

LANDLORD: Now, Sir. You was askin' about drats and I was about to show 'ee a drattin' pole. Obadiah!
(He calls over one of the besmocked yeomen carrying a pole) This is Obadiah Smothergoose, our local champion dratter.

OBADIAH: How do?
BERKELEY: Delighted! Is that a drattin' pole?
CRIES OF: Ooh! Aah! Drattin' pole! Best made! Petrified English bog-oak. Show 'im, Obadiah! Bog-oak 'er be.
LANDLORD: Obadiah is a tack hand - keeps his left hand low. Show the Lunnon gentleman your drattin' pole.

(Obadiah hefts the long, gaily-coloured pole about in a professional manner - half crouching as he does so)

LANDLORD: Now that's drattin' for you, sir! Lovely loose knees and plenty of flexibility in his lumbar region.

(Obadiah flexes his lumbar)

ALL: Bootiful! Real drattin'!
LANDLORD: Note the drattin' pole - all lovely matured petrified English bog-oak.
CRIES OF: Ah, lovely! Bootiful! Petrified! 'Tis!
LANDLORD: This is the foresight for alignin' the pole. (He indicates a spring-shaped object on the end of the pole) This is the hand-guard or Waffle-Banger.
BERKELEY: Waffle ...? (Enquiringly)
LANDLORD: (Completes it) ... Banger! Waffle-Banger. Protects the leadin' drattin' hand at high speed. This is the Nurdle Grip. . .
CRIES OF: Aah! The Nurdle Grip!
BERKELEY: What is it for?
LANDLORD: 'Case of nurdlin'! Naturally! 'Mazin' you didn't know that!
CRIES OF: 'Mazin'! It's for nurdlin', naturally!
BERKELEY: Naturally!
LANDLORD: And finally, (Proudly) note his Threep Danglers.
BERKELEY: (Bristling) Threep Danglers? Where?
LANDLORD: These. Danglin' down as plain as a pikestaff. (He indicates three brightly-coloured balls dangling on woven strings)
OBADIAH: (Filled with pride) The wife made them. She's got a marvellous touch with my Threep Danglers.
BERKELEY: Charming! What happens now?
LANDLORD: The runnin'!
BERKELEY: The running?
LANDLORD: Exactly! You're catchin' on fast. But afore the runnin' comes the wettin'.
CRIES OF: Afore the runnin' comes the wettin'.
BERKELEY: Wetting?
LANDLORD: In water. Obadiah first wets his boots in spring water.
LANDLORD: For the grip. He must have a good wet grip with his boots or he might nurdle.
CRIES OF: Ah! Obadiah might nurdle? Never! Not Obadiah, too much lumbar! Not nurdle - never! (Some of them are quite vehement)
LANDLORD: Every dratter has to face facts. There is always the danger of nurdlin'. If you be afraid you might nurdle, then I say - don't drat.
CHORUS: Aah! Don't drat! Not if you be nurdle-shy.
BERKELEY: Sounds dangerous.
LANDLORD: Oh! Terrible perilous, drattin' be.
BERKELEY: Well, now Obadiah has wetted himself, can we see a running?
LANDLORD: So you shall, sir! So you shall! Ted Mossop will be Lurker.
BERKELEY: Did you say Lurker?
LANDLORD: Aah, Lurker! See! The dratter has to 'ave a Lurker to lurk by the door, ready to open it and let him out for the drat run.
BERKELEY: I see! (He doesn't but he feels he must say something)
LANDLORD: Now, Obadiah gives his signals to the Lurker, who replies in the time-honoured manner of his lurkin' forefathers. All right, Obadiah! Let's drat!
OBADIAH: (Shouting to the Lurker) Queen Anne's bloomers.
LURKER: (Tensely at the door) Henry the Eighth's kneecaps.
OBADIAH: (Loudly) Disraeli's bedpan.
LURKER: (Throwing open the door) Gladstone's big brown warts.

(With the pub door open Obadiah runs out, holding his dratting pole like a lance. Thunderous applause from all and then deathly silence as the Lurker slams the pub door. Everyone is frozen like statues now listening intently to the sound of the dratting run)

BERKELEY: I say! What?
LANDLORD: (Fiercely) Quiet, Sir! 'Tis a drat.

(As the tableau of rigid, listening yeomen seems locked into immobility, we hear Obadiah's running footsteps disappearing into the distance. He runs over gravel, then tarmac and pavement, on to sand and finally his footsteps fade into silence. During the running he crashes into and through various obstacles that splinter,
crunch and disintegrate - loudly culminating in the distant sound of a huge pane of glass shattering)

LANDLORD: (Relaxing visibly) Twenty-two! (He turns and marks the score on a large blackboard next to Obadiah's name)
BERKELEY: Was that good?
LANDLORD: Not bad. But at one moment I thought he'd nearly nurdled.
VOICE: Never! Not Obadiah. Too much lumbar, he'm got. Don't 'ee say that 'bout Obadiah!
LANDLORD: (Placatingly) I said nearly nurdled. Could happen. Even to Obadiah.

(Another drafter has taken Obadiah's place, hefting his slightly different drat pole, but standing reversed with his back to Berkeley)

LANDLORD: This 'n be Hezekiah Trumbleweed. 'E's a southpaw. That's a left-hander.
BERKELEY: How unusual.
LANDLORD: Unique. That's what Hezekiah is - unique. Only left-handed dratter in the county.
BERKELEY: How many dratters are there in all?
LANDLORD: Countin' Obadiah Smothergoose? (Counts carefully) Two. Hezekiah's the other one.

(Hezekiah has had a wooden tub filled with a white liquid placed beside him)

BERKELEY: (Pointing) That's not water.
LANDLORD: Pig's milk. Hezekiah is an international.

(All remove hats. Hezekiah wets his boots in pig's milk and signals the Lurker)

HEZEKIAH: (Shouting) Old Mother Reilly's incontinence knickers.
LURKER: Richard the Third's hump.
HEZEKIAH: King William's rupture appliance.
LURKER: King George's codpiece!

(At this last piece of historical information Hezekiah starts his dratting run, with the Lurker whipping the door smartly open and then slamming it shut. Everyone, including Berkeley, freezes into intense listening poses. The sound of Hezekiah's run is subtly different from Obadiah's - a blend of splintering matchboard, skidding
sounds, a ricochet and accompanying breaking glass and as the footsteps die away, a rending crunch of impacted metal - with a sharp cry. Groans from the assembled drat fans)

LANDLORD: I hate sayin' it 'bout Hezekiah, but that were a very near nurdle.
CRIES OF: Aah! Nearly nurdled did Hezekiah. Never thought oid live to see the day. Bloody careless! Man could do himself a mischief like that, aah! Nearly nurdled at the third hazard. Nasty. Very nasty.
LANDLORD: Still, he didn't.
BERKELEY: Didn't what?
LANDLORD: Nurdle. That's what he didn't. There's an old saying in these 'ere parts. So long as 'ee doesn't nurdle, 'ee be on the straight and narrow, loike.
ALL: Aah! (Hats off) Keep to the straight and narrow and the Lord protect us from nurdlin'.
LANDLORD et al.: Amen.
BERKELEY: Amen, I say. Do you think I could have a go?
LANDLORD: What, Sir?
BERKELEY: I'd like to try a running.
CRIES OF: (In amused amazement) Ooh! Aah! Well, I'll be nurdled. And 'im nobbut a lad.
LANDLORD: I admire your pluck, sir. Well, boys. (He addresses the yeomen) What do 'ee think?
YEOMEN: Aah! Admirable. Very plucky. Spunky lad. Aah, why not 'ave a go, lad?
LANDLORD: 'Ere's a spare pole. (Berkeley grabs it) Now, sir, nice loose knees ...

(Berkeley crouches, bouncing up and down)

LANDLORD: Little more lumbar. (Berkeley gives a bit more lumbar)
LANDLORD: That's good.
BERKELEY: Shall I use the pig's milk?
LANDLORD: (Reluctantly) No, sir!
BERKELEY: (Already putting one foot towards the water bucket) The water, then?
LANDLORD: (Horrified) Not in Obadiah Smothergoose's water, please!

(Everyone gasps)

BERKELEY: (Confused) Sorry.
LANDLORD: You try a nice dry run, sir. Less chance of you nurdlin' on your first drat run. Now I'll give your signals to the Lurker.

(He tenses for the run, a look of do-or-die determination on his face)

LANDLORD: (Shouting) Teddy Roosevelt's spectacles.
LURKER: Queen Mary's toenails.
LANDLORD: Lloyd George's bunions.
LURKER: Kitchener needs you. (Points to Berkeley)
LANDLORD: That's you, sir. Away you go!

(With great concentration, the BBC spokesman runs, clumsily, past the Lurker and through the open door, which slams shut behind him with an ominous clang. Everyone listens in rapt silence as we hear Berkeley's stumbling run over gravel, pavement, grass and muddy terrain, crashing through and past various deadly
obstacles, which crunch and disentegrate. Then suddenly there is a cry of despair, the sound of an approaching express train, a tearing skid and a car-crash, followed by a dying scream as Berkeley falls over a cliff into the sea far below. This ends abruptly in a distant splash. In mute horror the yeomanry remove their hats and stand with bowed heads)

LANDLORD: (In subdued shock) Drat me! He nurdled!
CHORUS: Aah! Poor bugger.


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