Lunedi Lunacy

To make fun of music be it orchestral, operatic, leider, art songs, jazz, or pop you have to have a sound grounding in the genre.  You only have to think of Anna Russell, Spike Jones, Victor Borge, Dame Patricia Routledge as Hyacinth Bucket, Chuck Jones at Looney Tunes, the Hoffnung’s  Interplanetary Musical Festivals, P.D.Q. Bach, or the Nitwits to realize that all these “comedians” knew exactly what they were doing in their madcap spoofing.

In 1936 Sid Millward was considered one of the top saxophonists in the United Kingdom and he and his band, the Nitwits, were more traditional in their style; though there was still a slightly witty turn to their presentation as shown in this 1940 Pathé newsreel.

As well as serving in the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA) during the war he was also the bandleader at London’s fashionable Cafe Anglais.  In the late ’40s he teamed up with Cyril Lagey and Charlie Rossi to include comic versions of pop and classical numbers as well as sight gags into the act.

It was to become popular in clubs, on TV, and in the movies, in the UK, Europe and America.  An appearance at the famous Parisian night club the Lido de Paris led to a long time stint at the Stardust in Las Vegas when the tits-and-tassels spectacle moved there lock, stock, and danseuses nues. Many of the members including Millward moved to the city in the desert full time and travelled to international appearances.

This appearance on the Rudi Carrell show dates from 1970 and excludes the appearance of Lagey, a black performer who’s “Uncle Tom” character would be totally unacceptable today.  Lagey was an fine musician and an incredibly funny comedian; he was known for the bowler hat he wore onstage. It was actually only the brim as the rest of the hat was his hair.  He also was a master of incredible patter songs but belongs to a school of comedy that has seen it’s day.

Back in 2004 journalist David Millward wrote a fascinating piece on his elusive and colourful uncle Sid – a brilliant musician and comedian who knew exactly what he and his troop of nitwits were doing.

On this day in 1733: the right of settlers in New France to enslave natives was upheld at Quebec City.


Lunedi Lunacy

When I was growing up – as opposed to growing old – the 24th of May holiday weekend was a major cause for celebration.  It was known as Victoria Day because May 24th was the day that Alexandrina Victoria, future Queen of the United Kingdom and Ireland, Empress of India, was born in 1815.   And it was celebrated as such in Her Majesty’s loyal Dominion and after her death became a day of remembrance of the old Queen.  Since 1952 it has served double duty as Victoria Day and as the official birthday of our reigning monarch.

A left click on the picture of a Victoria Day celebration in 1949 (?) will take you to a bit of a ramble on Victoria Days passed.

In our neighbourhood it was a day for celebration, the first family picnic of the summer, community events, parades, and usually fireworks to end the day.  It was a bigger to-do than the first of July, Dominion Day, in most communities.  But things have – as they will do – changed over the past twenty odd years.  For most people Queen Victoria means a period soap opera on PBS and the birthday our current Queen is largely forgotten in the hectic exodus to cottage country or the floral frenzy at the local garden centre.  It is now a holiday for beer, bbq, bugs, and blooms.


And though we are indeed heading to the country for a barbecue today I would still like to salute the Old Queen – oh stop it!  You know what I mean! – with a few clips of her that show she did have her lighter side:

And in deference to the horsey tastes of our own beloved Queen I offer this running of a traditional derby – a fine way to celebrate her birthday:

On this day in 1570: The first atlas, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, is published with 70 maps.

Lunedi Lunacy

While searching for a video clip I stumbled upon one that featured the late Mel Blanc – “the man of  a thousand voices”.  As these things do that led to randomly clicking on videos from a few of the many programmes that featured one of the greatest of “second bananas”.

Blanc was a regular with Jack Benny both on radio and television as a cast member and part of Benny’s creative team.   He play everything from Sy the Mexican to Professor LeBlank, Jack’s long-suffering violin teacher to Benny’s decrepit old Maxwell automobile.  Apparently the audio of the old clunker (the car not Jack) sputtering didn’t work during a live radio broadcast day so Blanc quickly imitated it with such success that it was added to his long list of characters.

Benny and he had a chemistry on stage that was one of the best in the business as this little sketch goes to show:

In the 1960s CBS tried to duplicate the success of their I Love Lucy by casting the gamine Belgian actress Annie Fargé in Angel.  Though Fargé was a huge success the show rated low and only ran for one season.  However it gave Blanc one of his funniest cameos in a long string of sit-com appearances:

And by the way Blanc’s name was Melvin Jerome Blank (thanks to Laurent for catching that one.)

Many people wouldn’t recognize Blanc but they’d recognize the voices of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Tweety Bird, Sylvester the Cat, Yosemite Sam, Foghorn Leghorn, Marvin the Martian, Speedy Gonzales, Wile E. Coyote, Road Runner, the Tasmanian Devil, Pepé Le Pew and many of the other characters from Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies during that golden age of American animation.

I once had a French teacher tell me that if I wanted to get the proper cadence of French then listen to Pepé Le Pew – and that was part of Blanc’s success, he understood the rhythm, flow and stress of language.  And he knew how to make us laugh:

At his request his gravestone is inscribed:  THAT’S ALL FOLKS”.

On this day in 1905: Las Vegas is founded when 110 acres (0.45 km2), in what later would become downtown, are auctioned off.

Lunedi Lunacy

Given a few cases in the headlines recently it could seem that way back in 1984 the Two Ronnies foresaw the ridiculous situation* in today’s Canadian courtrooms.

*Not to get political but you have to wonder at a system where a murder trial takes 4 years to be heard, another murder charge is dismissed because the case was not heard in a timely manner, and a woman is prosecuted for giving water to pigs that were on the way to a slaughter house.  To quote Nicholas Breton “Tis a mad world my masters!”.

On this day in 1877: At Gilmore’s Gardens in New York City, the first Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show opens.

Lunedi Lunacy

This post is dedicated to my darling Lara.

This one is for real – honestly.  Sort of a Harlequin Romance for Librarians.

They probably started life as the “Penny Dreadfuls” of Victorian England and graduated to being “dime novels” when a dime was worth something.  By the time I was buying them they were “pocket books” and certainly cost more than a dime but a great deal less than a hard covered novel.  If indeed any publisher would bother to incur the cost of publishing their like in a hardcover edition.

Printed on thin pulp paper (which if the few I still have hanging around* are any indication turn from a dun colour to an aged denture yellow very quickly) with slivers of wood visible, the covers were paperboard and the illustrations faintly lurid.  No matter the subject there was always the tantalizing promise of something salacious in the cover “art”.  The accompanying blurb had little to do with the content but a great deal to do with the readers libido.  They are the sort of books you just don’t see in respectable libraries.

However, and you just knew there was going to be a however,  my close friend Lara, a full-fledged librarian, assured me that beneath that respectability and all that dewey discipline there were stories lurking amongst the bookshelves that would put Penny Dreadfuls to shame.  So I began a search and turned up titles that would have made Mrs Kennedy, our local librarian, blush.  Or would they?  I’m not so sure now that I’ve met and partied with librarians.

I’m glad to see that all those MLS degrees have been put to good use by the graduates of some of the finer universities.

I found that this glimpse into the secret world of librarians and libraries has given me an new respect, I think that’s the word I’m looking for?  No?  Maybe appreciation would be a better choice for those who work the stacks, trundle the carts and decipher the Dewey Decimal system.

And it also may answer the question posed in the title of this searching, searing look into the dark, echoing but yet silent world behind those towering, forbidding rows of books:


*Mostly old cookbooks before any of you get any ideas!

On this day in 1169:  Norman mercenaries land at Bannow Bay in Leinster, marking the beginning of the Norman invasion of Ireland.