Victorian joke book proves that the old ones aren't best

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I say, I say, I say - have you heard the one about the Victorian gags that hadn't been aired for 130 years? Well, when you hear them you'll probably understand why.

A long-neglected stash of jokes will this week be revived for the first time since their 19th-century prime. The material was gathered in two notebooks by the touring clown Thomas Lawrence to perfect and preserve his pioneering stand-up routines. This Victorian equivalent of Bob Monkhouse's joke book will by performed at the spiritual home of variety - Blackpool.

It might not be sufficiently sophisticated or bawdy to tickle the audience of today, but in their time, this material would have reduced the crowd to peals of laughter.

The books contains such gems as: "What's the difference between a rowing boat and Joan of Arc? One is made of wood and the other is Maid of Orleans."

Academic Ann Featherstone came across the volumes when she helped a friend's family research.

The two books had been passed through subsequent generations of his family, but no one was entirely sure what they were. Further research revealed that her friend's great-great-great-great grandfather was Thomas Lawrence.

The jokes will be performed by Manchester University students on Thursday at the Blackpool Grand Theatre, where Dr Featherstone will also talk on Victorian clowns