Wednesday, December 27, 2006

"All the best, Rigsby..."

"Happy Christmas - and a... er... er... God, my writing's getting worse every year..."

Having avoided almost all TV this Christmas (save for seeing Rageh Omaar embarrass himself and his profession on Celebrity Mastermind, upon which the endearingly-severe Sir Ranulph Fiennes also suggested Bill Clinton's Vice-President between 1995 and 2001 was "Lewinsky"...), today's line-up on ITV3 was a temptation too far: yes, after utterly-missable afternoons devoted to On The Buses and the over-familiar Two Ronnies, today was a glorious Rising Damp Day.

The Christmas special, in which (Rupert) Rigsby manages to shut himself off from the world - and his own self-sent seasonal greetings card - until a bitter Boxing Day, is a festive favourite of mine, alongside Blackadder's Christmas Carol, Harold's predictably futile attempt to escape alone, and abroad, from Harold for Christmas in Steptoe And Son, the Christmas episode of Bottom ("All-Gold, Frankenstein... and Grrr"...) and the inevitable Only Fools And Horseses...

One of my best Christmas gifts was a second-hand-shop-bought copy of Leonard Rossiter's 1981 book, The Lowest Form Of Wit, an in-depth study and celebration of sarcasm. The dust jacket promises "specific advice on how to treat bank managers and, notably, how to be sarcastic to foreigners and yet be understood"

Some might say that, in the battle to plumb the lowest depths of wit, sarcasm gets a run for its money from punning. Both are just fine by me, but punning at least is (reasonably) painless (again, some might well disagree...)

As Rossiter writes:

"Sarcasm is cruel, there's no denying it. To some it gives the same vindictive pleasure as thumping a rival at school in the back when he's pinned to the floor by half a dozen others. To others, perhaps, it gives the delicious sensation achieved by whacking a squash ball into an opponent's fleshy thigh, and watching the small white mark."

Excellent. Just a little bit of a shame that the first page I opened at took relish in Lyndon Johnson's descriptions of one of his now-dear-departed successors:

"Gerry Ford is a nice guy, but he played too much football with his helmet off."

and:

"Gerry's the only man I ever knew who can't walk and chew gum at the same time."

Quickly followed up by a sucker punch quotation from Bella Abzug:

"Richard Nixon self-impeached himself. He gave us Gerald Ford as his revenge."

Ouch. Witty while caustic, yes - but sarcastic? On first glance perhaps Rigsbys', sorry, Reggie Perrin's, sorry, Leonard Rossiter's book will be more a compendium of general wit and put-downs rather than purest sarcasm, but it has certainly, admittedly diverted me already from the (fascinating) hardback I already had on the go, Frederick Taylor's expansive The Berlin Wall. They should make a tasty cocktail when back on the commuting beat next week - little-and-large, light- and heavy-weight.

RIP Gerald Ford, by the by, not that I have any strong feelings either way on the man, other than affection for his portrayal in The Simpsons as the Homer-befriending, clunkily charming antidote to mean old bad neighbour George H W Bush.

"Say, Homer - do you like football? Do you like nachos? Well, why don't you come over and watch the game, and we'll have nachos? And then, some beer."

Ford was actually born Leslie King (to a Leslie King Snr), only for his mother to give him the name Gerald Ford after her second husband, his stepfather, Gerald Rudolff Ford. What is it about US Presidents, they can't even tell the truth about their own names...?

Clinton, after all, was the surname of Bill's stepfather, not his natural dad? Had he kept the name he was born with, history books may now tell of 42nd US President Bill Blythe.

Oh, and his running-mate Lewinsky, of course.

As Rigsby might witheringly moan: "Stop the world, I want to get off..."