“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.]