Thursday, October 06, 2005

Satire As It Should Be Done

The Guardian, where David Aaronovitch used to work, runs a column on Saturdays by "Norman Johnson" who is a very unsubtle parody of DA. (Sometimes the prose style is so close to Aaronovitch's own, and the jokes similarly flat, that I wonder if it's not the man himself. But that would be ... odd.) Part of the joke -- perhaps the whole of the joke -- is that it takes people in. Gene of Harry's Place fell for it, and there was much rejoicing when two of the UK left's most prominent veteran letter writers proved similarly gullible. Indeed, to get the joke at all, you have to twig who is being parodied. Tim Worstall thought the target was Harry's Place, and I'm sure most Guardian readers draw a blank as well.

If you're going to do a take-off of a (reasonably) well-known moulder-of-popular-opinion, there is only one man to call. The great thing about Craig Brown's parodies is that you don't have to be familiar with who he's sending up: the rhythm tells you it's funny. I don't know what his politics are exactly, but this reads like a poke at a sort of right-wing snob.

When first I put my head around the door in the mid-1960s (dread decade!) I found myself transported back in time to another world in which delightfully old-fashioned, stately world in which aristocrats (the Duchess of Argyll; Lord Boothby; Lucky Lucan; Lord Rockingham's XI) could let their hair down in the company of high-flying socialites (Diana Dors; Jack "The Hat" McVitie; Taki Theodoracopoulos; Clarence the Cross-Eyed Lion).
And somehow Annabel's has managed to retain something of that exclusive, cultivated air ever since. The great joy of the club is that one can tuck into a delicious prawn cocktail on a red velvet banquette while indulging in lively discussion with a leading commentator (the estimable Littlejohn or the wry and witty Heffer) while tapping one's toes to a catchy number from the hit parade such as my own favourite, Knock Three Times by the redoubtable Tony Orlando and Dawn.

(For the ankle-biters among you, Clarence the Cross-Eyed Lion was a lion in a children's TV programme in the 60s or possibly the 70s; Taki is the Spectator's gossip columnist and a convicted cocaine smuggler.) Given the first paragraph, "the estimable [Richard] Littlejohn or the wry and witty [Simon] Heffer" is laugh-out-loud funny. There's a class of middle-aged men paid handsomely to harrumph at youth, declining standards, policemen not calling them "sir' often enough, and so on, which I'm afraid Comrades Cohen and Aaronovitch seem to have joined. And this kind of thing pops their pomposity a lot better than Norman Johnson. That was good, but this is genius.

Rough justice, you may say, but it is only with a bit of harmless ragging that these types can ever be made to see sense. When Peter Hain ventured into Annabel's in a floral cravat and a pair of fawn slacks in the mid-1980s for instance, he began spouting all sorts of nonsense about helping the poor and the needy and other tiresome elements.
Need I go on? At a given signal from General Pinochet, who was Entertainments Secretary at the time, a nippy group of younger members hurled a grubby sheet over the wretched Hain, placed him in leg irons and frog-marched him to the Re-education Room behind the artificial book-case, there to be dosed-up with drugs and permitted to repent at his leisure. Result? Not a Lefty squeak from the fellow since, in fact quite the opposite.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem with the Norman Johnson thing is that it's a parody of stuff that already comes close to self parody anyway. It's superfluous. I think this is also why the HP parody sites never really got off the ground either (though Oliver Kampf was pretty funny).

- RK

10/06/2005 02:19:00 PM  
Blogger the management said...

I think CB is having a go at Taki, isn't he? Although the fact that Taki is mentioned by name and the absence of crude anti-Semitism would suggest otherwise.

10/06/2005 07:08:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I fell for it I admit, I think this was because it did not occur to me that anyone would attempt to parody the "muscular liberals" and also because the views expressed by "Norman Johnson" are so similar to those of the DL.Probably because Geras and Johnson are the DL.I'm not sure I get the joke.

10/06/2005 08:47:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

The above comment assumed that Geras and Johnson write "Norman Johnson". I got the wrong end of the stick (again). My bad.

10/06/2005 09:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

BB, I think Craig Brown is having a go at all of that smug Tory set. I don't understand the rest of your comment -- or I think I do, and it's clearly wrong. CB certainly isn't an anti-semite; and Taki certainly is. You can easily Google taki anti-semitism. See his former employer, Conrad Black, for instance.

10/06/2005 09:08:00 PM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

Someone needs to do a parody of Melanie Phillips, surely?

I think that would be fun, if regularly published in a rival newspaper.

10/07/2005 02:17:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


you've got BB's point wrong, it being that CB's piece is not a parody of taki, as it mentions Taki, and isn't anti-semitic.

10/07/2005 09:46:00 PM  
Blogger Backword Dave said...

Ah, I see now. The problem with parody crude anti-Semitism is that it's liable to be misinterpreted. Confession time: I've never read Taki, only about him.

10/08/2005 06:44:00 PM  

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