Wednesday, January 04, 2012

`Their Flawless Shambles'

“I allowed my love of the comedians to get into my work.”

This is spoken in a recent BBC interview by Geoffrey Hill, who in The Triumph of Love (1998) lauds Laurel and Hardy for “cutting, pacing, repacing / their flawless shambles.” They are, in other words, fellow craftsmen, like the great poets, with a sense of anarchy rooted in strict form and discipline.

Hill’s reputation among careless readers is for Miltonic solemnity. He is dismissed, when assessed at all, as “a solemn, dry-as-dust intellectual,” as he tells the interviewer, Stephen Smith. He claims to be, rather, “a rip-roaring fantasist.” One senses Hill, who turns eighty in June, is putting on Smith and his interviewer’s tone of self-impressed portentousness. Hill out-condescends Smith by wearing an impish mask, rather like Stan Laurel.

The poet agrees with Smith that future scholars of his work should consider his debt to comedians, including Ken Dodd, an English comic previously unknown to me. Hill says, “I leave a lot of heavy hints, the way a comic will seem to stress the grammatically unimportant word.” As the Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford, Hill says with a visage like Father Mapple’s ("in the hardy winter of a healthy old age”), he hopes to perform “one-thousandth as well as Ken Dodd.”

In April 2009, Dodd unveiled a bronze statue of Laurel and Hardy in Ulverston, Cumbria, the birthplace of Arthur Stanley Jefferson, better known as Stan Laurel, and home of the Laurel and Hardy Museum.

[Hill was knighted this week, an honor never granted Stan Laurel.]


Nige said...

Ken Dodd is the most brilliant stand-up comic I've ever seen. Though he hardly tells 'jokes' as such, his handling of an audience is sheer genius, and he seems to radiate an infectious happiness and good cheer. He soon reduces you to the point where you can only laugh and laugh, quite helplessly. You have to see him live to get the full effect, but this clip gives a taste of Dodd in action...

zmkc said...

I can't decide whether a lifetime spent, thus far, in ignorance of Ken Dodd is to be envied or not. His Diddymen rather overshadow the other more amusing aspects of his act for me.

Andrew Thomson said...

Groucho Eliot, Buster Beckett and now Ken Hill. Plato's comedian described these conjoined twins; their back and sides forming a circle, four hands and four feet, one head with two faces, looking opposite ways, set on a round neck; walking backwards or forwards as they pleased, rolling over and over at a lively pace, turning on their four hands and four feet arsy-versy like tumblers. Zeus in his displeasure split them asunder and commanded Apollo to fashion one half upright as the head and front portion of a pantomime horse and the other half the crouching rear-end, so that thereafter neither without the other could feel wholly quadrepedal.