Sunday, 11 May 2008

'List of Culprits Worthy of an Aria from The Mikado': An Explanation

I am indebted to Joan Yeadon who has emailed me with an explanation of Jonathan Guthrie's comment in his recent (rather nasty) review of my new book Business Nightmares (see my recent post 'And so it begins...(again)'

"Dear Rachel

I would not lose any sleep over what Jonathan Guthrie wrote about your book if I were you. What he says in his second paragraph will strike a chord with a lot of potential readers.

Now for the quick tell on what Mr Guthrie might mean by: “a list of culprits worthy of an aria from The Mikado” in his first paragraph.

The Mikado, is a comic opera in two acts, with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert, their ninth of fourteen operatic collaborations. It is the most frequently performed G & S opera and it is especially popular with amateur and school productions. It was first performed on 14 March 1885 in London at the Savoy Theatre.

The Mikado is a comedy that deals with themes of death and cruelty. This works because Gilbert treats these themes as trivial, even lighthearted issues. Setting the opera in Japan, an exotic locale far away from Britain, allowed Gilbert to satirize British politics and institutions more freely by disguising them as Japanese.

The aria referred to by Mr Guthrie could be one of two:

- 'As some day it may happen' in Act I where Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner, goes through a "little list" of "society offenders" who, if executed, "would not be missed"

- A more humane Mikado in Act II where the Mikado lists “society sinners” and punishments that fit the crime

I consider the first song, As some day it may happen, to be the most likely reference and the lyrics for this song only are set out below. If you would like me to send you the lyrics to A more humane Mikado, let me know and I will ping it across to you.

The original song, As some day it may happen, manages to be racist (”the banjo-serenader and the others of his race”), sexist (”the lady novelist”), and classist (”the lady from the provinces”) all at once

As some day it may happen

As some day it may happen that a victim must be found,
I've got a little list--I've got a little list
Of society offenders who might well be underground,
And who never would be missed--who never would be missed!
There's the pestilential nuisances who write for autographs--
All people who have flabby hands and irritating laughs--
All children who are up in dates, and floor you with 'em flat--
All persons who in shaking hands, shake hands with you like that--
And all third persons who on spoiling tete-a-tetes insist--
They'd none of 'em be missed--they'd none of 'em be missed!


He's got 'em on the list--he's got 'em on the list;
And they'll none of 'em be missed--they'll none of 'em be missed.

There's the banjo serenader, and the others of his race,
And the piano-organist--I've got him on the list!
And the people who eat peppermint and puff it in your face,
They never would be missed--they never would be missed!
Then the idiot who praises, with enthusiastic tone,
All centuries but this, and every country but his own;
And the lady from the provinces, who dresses like a guy,
And who "doesn't think she waltzes, but would rather like to try";
And that singular anomaly, the lady novelist--
I don't think she'd be missed--I'm sure she'd not be missed!


He's got her on the list--he's got her on the list;
And I don't think she'll be missed--I'm sure she'll not be missed!

And that Nisi Prius nuisance, who just now is rather rife,
The Judicial humorist--I've got him on the list!
All funny fellows, comic men, and clowns of private life--
They'd none of 'em be missed--they'd none of 'em be missed.
And apologetic statesmen of a compromising kind,
Such as--What d'ye call him--Thing'em-bob, and likewise--Never-mind,
And 'St--'st--'st--and What's-his-name, and also You-know-who--
The task of filling up the blanks I'd rather leave to you.
But it really doesn't matter whom you put upon the list,
For they'd none of 'em be missed--they'd none of 'em be missed!


You may put 'em on the list--you may put 'em on the list;
And they'll none of 'em be missed--they'll none of 'em be missed!

W. S. Gilbert

People often adapt this song and come up with contemporary lyrics.

For example:

Peter Lilley's version at the 1992 Tory Conference which has bite and is tightly constructed:

As some day it may happen that a victim must be found
I've got a little list - I've got a little list
Of benefit offenders who I’ll soon be rooting out
And who never would be missed, they never would be missed –
There are those who make up bogus claims in half a dozen names
And councillors who draw the dole to run Left wing campaigns
Young ladies who get pregnant just to jump the housing list,
And dads who won't support the kids of ladies they have ... kissed

Tim Rice’s list constructed on behalf of the late Colin Cowdrey which he read at Cowdrey’s memorial service:

As some day it may happen that a victim must be found
I've got a little list - I've got a little list
Of some cricketing offenders I would banish from the ground
And who never would be missed, they never would be missed.
Such as coaches who would rather run ten miles than hold a net,
And chaps whose innings end because some blighter placed a bet.
I used to think that sledging was a sport that needed snow,
But now I know it’s something else it really has to go ...

Kindest regards

Joan Yeadon"

So now you know!


MrRobot said...

I have to say that it takes a culprit to know one.

Having started to read this post, (before nodding off) i quickly began to realise that it was the sort of BOURGEOISIE CLAPTRAP that is churned out everyday. The article discussed about Rachel is more a clever litty ditty to be chuckled over in some Fleet street bar.

Oh good - o, i hear them say. What a lovely juxta-play on words!!
How you drew on this and that to make your argument!!

That will keep the rabble in order - keep them buying our clever, concealed and self-serving words.

There are parts of the English language that should be burned - along with the self-enchanting wasters that use it.

Perhaps this guy is better employed as Editor of the Beano.


MrRobot said...

Jonathan Guthrie

His writing is informed by conversations with entrepreneurs such as John Caudwell, Sir Rocco Forte and Karan Bilimoria.

"He hasn't even got a mind of his own".

Anonymous said...

He does seem to have a point - you still seem to blame everyone but yourself for tanking your company.

Clearly you don't buy into Truman's aphorism "The buck stops here".

MrRobot said...

Yea, just look at all those failed millionaires and billionaires out there all queueing up to fall on their swords.

This journalist is either out of touch with REAL reality - or simply a mouthpiece for someone else.

Rachel Elnaugh said...

Hey anonymous, why don't you actually try reading the book before putting in your two penn'orth ???