`Oops - Sorry I Forgot Your Sad Suicide' ... and other greetings cards the censor saw

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People who do very unusual jobs indeed

Number 29: A taste controller in the greetings card industry

"Up to the 1960s, nobody ever saw the slightest need for taste control in the greetings card industry," says Horace Liveright.

"That's because everything was tasteful. Ghastly good taste, you might say. Suffocatingly good taste. Everything was pink clouds and bedroom slippers and little puppies and golf clubs for dad. But in the 1960s everything loosened up. People let it all hang out. We had sex and drugs and rock'n'roll, and the greetings card industry was no exception. When the first greetings card went on the market inscribed `Greetings To A Really Horny Guy... `, you knew things would never be quite the same again."

It is impossible to tell from Horace Liveright's expression whether he thinks this is a good thing or not. Presumably he thinks it is a good thing, because otherwise he would not be the chief censor of the greetings card industry. Although censor is not a word he likes to hear.

"No, I am not a censor. A censor is someone who stops things being known. I cannot stop someone telling someone else that he is glad it is his birthday. All I can do is exercise some advisory power. I am head of the Greetings Card Advisory Centre. We advise. We do not control."

In what way would he exercise his right to advise ?

"Well, you may have read recently that a leading card manufacturer has issued a set of cards to send to people whose lives have been blighted by the suicide of a loved one. Sorry to hear about your suicide in the family, and that sort of thing."

And did Horace Liveright try and stop it ?

"Oh no!" Horace looks somewhat shocked. "No, we are very glad whenever a card company finds a new occasion to issue a set of cards for. It's the follow-up we try to keep an eye on."

Follow-up?

"Well, whenever you get a serious card for a serious occasion, you start to get variations on it after a while. The conventional birthday card led to the satirical birthday card, and to the sexy birthday card, and the pop-up birthday card, and the musical birthday card, and the late birthday card... "

The late birthday card?

"Yes, you know, when you have forgotten someone's birthday and you try to make amends by sending an `Oops - Sorry I Forgot Your Birthday!' card. Well, that's fine with a birthday, but can you imagine if someone marketed an "Oops - Sorry I Forgot Your Sad Suicide" card? Or a pop-up suicide card ? It would lower the tone of the whole industry.

Yes, but surely the tone of the whole industry is low enough already?

"How do you mean?" says Horace Liveright impassively.

Well, there are outrageously gay birthday cards with pictures of naked men, and outrageously ageist cards for older birthdays, and highly suggestive pop-up cards, and... and... Hold on a moment. A pop-up suicide card? What would a pop-up suicide card look like?

"Well, as you opened it, a hand might go up, pulling a noose. Or a hand with a gun might come out at you. Or... "

Wouldn't that be in the most appalling taste?

"Of course. It's my job to make sure it doesn't happen. So whenever I come across a card which seems to transgress all rules of taste, I move heaven and earth to get them withdrawn."

And what happens to them if and when they are withdrawn?

"Well, they are all pulped, all except the copies I keep. I have a little collection of banned greetings cards. My Black Card Museum, I call it. Care to have a look?"

And into a back room I was led, after the door had been unlocked, to see the most unsettling collection of cards I have ever seen. Pop-up cards involving chain saws and severed limbs. Musical cards involving indecorous lyrics. Cards to be sent to a necrophiliac. Cards which involved libel on living people (mostly Jeffrey Archer, it has to be said). Gay religious cards saying things about the Pope which couldn't possibly be true. (Could they?) Blasphemous cards, naughty 3-D cards, even cards bearing illicit cannabis seeds...

"Amazing stuff, isn't it?" said Horace Liveright, lick- ing his lips, panting slightly and his face slightly flushed, as he closes the door to his Black Card Museum. "Quite amazing."

It's hard to be certain, but I fancy that in his work dedicated to protecting the public from the damaging effect of tasteless cards, Mr Horace Liveright may have become the first man in history to become depraved and corrupted by exposure to greeting cards.

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