There's nothing better than a good old-fashioned cliche

Related Topics
YESTERDAY I wrote a piece that used the idea of the cliche expert. It's a simple, but nice, idea. You pretend that cliches are an academic branch of study, that you have got hold of a cliche expert to interview, and you get dialogue such as this: Q. When it comes to the spreading of gossip, what has it? A. Rumour has it. Q. In what strange position is rumour passed on? A. Between you, me and the gatepost. Q. What is the only process that can stop a

rumour? A. The one known as 'scotching'.

And so on and so on. It's not only a nice idea but an old one, as people remind me whenever I use it. 'You may think you invented this cliche expert interview idea,' they say, especially if Irish, 'but actually Myles na Gopaleen was using it 30 years ago, so put that in your pipe and smoke it]' (Q. In what popular tobacconist's item are we asked to put our bumptious statements? A. Our pipe. Q. And what process of incineration will then take place? etc.)

I used to wince at this accusation, as there was a grain of truth in it, though only to the extent that Myles na Gopaleen did use the cliche expert interview idea, and I borrowed it from him.

And then I discovered something that restored my happiness. Myles na Gopaleen had stolen the idea from someone else. He had taken it with or without acknowledgement - almost certainly without - from Frank Sullivan, an American writer who in the Thirties invented a cliche expert called Mr Arbuthnot, and wrote at least one classic piece called 'The Cliche Expert Testifies on Love'. If you have never sampled it, here (I almost said, 'to whet your appetite') is a small extract. A. There is another side to sex. Q. There is? What side? A. The seamy side. There are, you know, men who are wolves in sheep's clothing, and there are, alas, lovely women who stoop to folly. Q. My goodness] Describe these men you speak of, please. A. They are fiends in human form, who would rob a woman of her most priceless possession. Q. What is that? A. Her honour. Q. How do they rob her? A. By making improper advances. Q. What does a woman do when a snake in the grass tries to rob her of her honour? A. She defends it. Q. How? A. By repulsing his advances and scorning his embraces. Q. How does she do that? A. By saying: 'Sir, I believe that you forget yourself', or 'I'll kindly thank you to remember I'm a lady'. Q. Suppose she doesn't say any of these things? A. In that case, she takes the first false step down the primrose path . . .

Excellent stuff. I wonder who Frank Sullivan nicked the idea from, and who HE nicked it from.

Yes, ideas in humour come back again and again, as do humorous fashions. When I first joined Punch in the Sixties, the writer who had most influenced me was S J Perelman - I spent a few months falling under his spell and much too long getting out from under it again. Perelman's writing, I would guess, influences nobody these days, but I have just made the most extraordinary discovery: his cartoons, of all things, were way ahead of the game.

Some modern cartoons, as I have suggested before, are not really cartoons at all but artificial drawings with arch titles. I always thought that Glen Baxter was the father of this school, but I have just come across a collection of Perelman's early material called That Old Gang O' Mine (William Morrow and Co, NY), and it turns out that he was doing Glen Baxter material back in the Twenties.

I don't think Perelman kept up cartooning much beyond 1930, but before then he was turning out drawings with captions such as 'Please, Daddy, Don't Go Out Tonight] Begged The Gunman's Children', 'I Consider Fisticuffs Brutal, Announced Cabot Flatly' and 'The Score is Forty-Love Said Frank Meaningfully'. The captions have the stage-direction quality of Glen Baxter. Mark you, they aren't that good, but it's nice to know that things do come in cycles. To put it another way . . . Q. Under what heavenly orb is there nothing new? A. The sun.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lettings Administrator

£16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Purpose of Role: To co-ordinate maintena...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager - Commercial Training

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The business development manage...

The Richmond Fellowship Scotland: Executive Director

£66,192 per annum including car allowance of £5,700): The Richmond Fellowship ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£16575 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity is ava...

Day In a Page

Read Next
George Osborne walks down the stairs from a submarine during a visit to the Royal Navy's submarine base at Faslane on August 31, 2015 in Faslane Scotland  

Sorry George Osborne, but it's Trident that makes us less safe, not Jeremy Corbyn

Kate Hudson
Fighters from Isis parading in Raqqa, northern Syria, where the ‘Islamic State’ has its capital; Iranian-backed Shia militia are already fighting the group on the ground in Iran  

Heartlessness towards refugees is the lifeblood of jihadist groups like Isis

Charlie Winter
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent