How the NS celebrated the last royal birth: "A thankful nation's overjoyed / To have three million unemployed"

A poem by Roger Woddis.

Demijohn

To commemorate the birth of the Royal baby, the Daily Telegraph published “A Nativity Ode, with apologies to the Poet Laureate”.

Once all our vigil fears were gone,
They rushed to bend the knee, Sir John,
And we must thank the Telegraph
For giving Britain such a laugh.
You would have blushed with shame, or worse,
If you had penned such ghastly verse,
But something makes this crap unique –
It wasn’t written tongue-in-cheek.
“From her there shines a son.” (I quote).
You’d shudder if you ever wrote
Appalling lines like these, Sir John.
“The moon did run” – I can’t go on.

Only a dried-up soul and sour
Would fail to celebrate the hour
When any woman’s time is due
And both of them come safely through;
But if one lifts a flowering glass,
(Whatever else the State affords,
It’s not the Marsden’s cancer wards.)
Come, let us look to our defences
And go for panem et circenses:
A thankful nation’s overjoyed
To have three million unemployed.

25 June 1982

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What's the score? BBC Radio 4 explores composers' manuscripts

Tales from the Stave is endlessly fascinating, although my classical musician siblings tell me composers aren't so bad in real life.

A new series of the ever-fascinating programme that examines composers’ handwritten manuscripts for markings and meaningful doodles started at the Birmingham Oratory, looking at Elgar’s 1900 conducting score for The Dream of Gerontius (repeated 18 June, 3.30pm). A work for voices and orchestra (and one of the most popular pieces in the choral canon), it sets to music a poem by John Henry Newman about a pious man’s journey into death, facing demons and eventually purification. This is a work full of “vulnerability and elements of failure”, as the presenter Frances Fyfield put it. Elgar’s version, if you like, of It’s a Wonderful Life.

Looking at the score, Fyfield murmured absorbedly about the composer’s many visionary and monomaniacal scribbles. “Lento has been changed to Lento mistico, which is fantastic.” Much was made of the erratic style of his pen strokes. “Frantic abandon, hugely animated tempo markings, emotional expression. Presto scribbled out with two black lines . . . Oh!” Yet after it was mentioned that Elgar (“rather amusingly”) inscribed not just Despair but Despairissimo throughout another section, I texted my brother, a classical singer, and my sister, a violinist, to ask if made-up words and general geek/dweeb control-freakery was usual on a composer’s score.

“Never come across it, really,” my brother replied, “and really I wouldn’t think too much of markings. It’s an interpretive thing.” Then what are you thinking of when you’re singing? I ask, disappointed. “Sex. And wondering where we’re going for dinner after rehearsal.” Sounded a bit lax to me. Had my sister ever encountered an overwrought composer/conductor, yelling “DESPAIRISSIMO!” at the strings? “Not really,” she shrugged. “One bloke. Big moustache. I asked him once about bow strokes and he said he didn’t give a s**t.”

There must have been somebody! Something to illustrate that hyper-receptive transaction trauma – that stunned sense of epiphany – between composer and musician? “Well, there was one guy who made me feel so bad when I did a solo, I started my period on the spot.” And that, dear reader, is my annual formal account from the British concert platform. Il prossimo!

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 23 June 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Divided Britain