'I'll tell you the best thing about Victorian satire - no subtlety'
Saturday 27 January 1996
Samuel and Melissa Aiderton are the founder members of LOVS - "Lovers of Victorian Satire" - a small group of like-minded people dedicated to bringing the joys of "this marvellous, marvellous, marvellous old art" back to the people. They perform their favourite songs and sketches at schools and festivals, and organise evenings in which they all sit around and laugh and shake their heads in wonder. Which is exactly what 25 of us are doing now, at a conference room at the Holiday Inn in King's Cross. "Listen to this," he says. "Listen to this ... it's devastating."
He puts on a very old 78 recording of a man performing a song entitled "In Trinity Church I Met Me Doom", and we sit in silent awe. "In Trinity Church I Met Me Doom..." sings the man. "A Ra Ra A Ra A De De Deee," sing Samuel and Melissa in unison. "The missus hit me with a broom" sings the man. "A Ra Ra A Ra A De De Deee," sing Samuel and Melissa. "You see," says Samuel. "They didn't need to shout. They didn't need nastiness."
"He's bein' a little nasty to his wife," I offer tentatively. "It's a joke," bellows Samuel. "It's all clean fun. Bloody political correctness. It's not like he's hitting her with a broom, is it now?"
"It's not wife battery," agrees Melissa. "I'll tell you the best thing about Victorian satire." "What?" I ask. "No subtlety," she replies. "No nuances. Nowadays it's all nuances and sub-texts. Bloody ridiculous. What are they? Funnymen, or university lecturers?"
The high-spot of tonight's party is listening to Samuel and Melissa performing a sketch entitled "The Gendarme". "Excuse me," says Samuel. "Oui?" says Melissa. "My lady wife," says Samuel, "fell out of bed last night." "Ooh la la!" says Melissa. "She's so fat," concludes Samuel, "that she rolled herself back to sleep."
There is a huge laugh.
"That joke can be traced back to 1895," whispers an aged man called Bob. "One hundred whole years ago." He gives his wife a wink. "Before even you were born. You see, our Victorian forefathers knew how to let their hair down, contrary to popular belief."
"I've got a question," I say. "Why is he telling a policeman that his wife fell out of bed? You'd be done for wasting police time if you did that now. You'd probably be locked in a padded cell."
"Well, that's the difference isn't it?" says Melissa. "The policemen were a lot more friendly in those days. Life was a lot more friendly."
"I'll tell you who I blame for the death of Victorian satire," says Samuel later, as the night reaches its end.
"Who?" I ask.
"Thatcher," says Samuel.
"You sound like an alternative comedian," I say.
"No, seriously," says Samuel. "When Thatcher said we should all get back to Victorian values, she was talking about discipline and silence during meals. That sort of thing. It gave the Victorians such a bad name. You know what Victorian values really were?"
"What?" I say.
"Having a bloody good laugh," says Samuel. "That's what. Having a bloody good time. "
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