It’s the phrase he’s going through…

The Textiliste has no sense of smell. Not really. So it wasn’t unusual to have a sack pushed at my face and asked to sniff. Dried lavender, you see.

Collected last year from the garden and used to fill small cushions for sale. I had to check it still had oomph.

I moaned about the imposition (I was pretending to be asleep – I was never good at that – when the Lawyer was a babe and cried in the night, I would fain sleep while the Textiliste fained death) but she wasn’t to be denied. So I resorted to throwing a stalk at her, spear-like, crying ‘Banzai – Stabu the Elephant Boy!’

“Stab You?”

That’s what Dad said when he flung a grass stalk at us on a long walk (boy, were our entertainments sophisticated back then).

I thought I’d better check if there was such a character and it turned out he was talking about Sabu, the Elephant Boy, a star of 1930s Indian cinema. This young man had quite a history and it set had me thinking about whether I had just misheard Dad or that’s what he actually said.

By that tortuous route I alighted on a link to a wartime radio show called ‘ITMA’ (It’s That Man Again – which I’m informed, was a reference to a moustachioed German causing a stir across the channel). It seems ‘Stabu the elephant boy’ might have been a creation of that show. ITMA, I found, was the source of a number of catchphrases of the time: ‘Can I do you now, sir’ ‘TTFN’ (tata for now) and ‘After you Cyril; no after you Claude’. All of which peppered my childhood a couple of decades after the end of the war, proving the longevity of such silly expressions; they certainly wiggle their way into the subconscious like one of those cheap music ear-worms.

Catchphrases have an odd way of framing a period of my life. Mid 60’s TV and there was ‘Oh you are awful, but I like you’ (Dick Emery). Later, in the 70s and teen age years it was ‘They don’t like it up ’em, sir’ (Clive Dunn), ‘I’m Free’ (John Inman) and even ‘Bernie the Bolt’ (Bob Monkhouse). Partly I suppose it was because we only had two, three or four channels back then and we all watched TV together, all the generations, so these things infected every walk of life.

Do catchphrases still have the same resonance today? I had to think hard and came up with Catherine Tate’s ‘Am I bovvered’. This entered the household lexicon at some time in the last ten years or so, but I can’t honestly say many others have. Which I think is a shame. Having Brucie continue to roll out ‘Give us a Twirl’ is a sad indictment of the stickability of today’s TV, frankly. They seemed to be neat shorthand for shared experiences, albeit rather trite and superficial and I suppose I miss them.

And then, pondering their loss, I realised the BBC spoof of the Olympics, 2012 (which believe me, from someone who worked for both the ODA and LOCOG over four years up to the Games, was far too near the mark to be really funny) has given me the Ian Fletcher (Hugh Bonneville) ‘Well, that’s all good then’. I don’t suppose it has stuck with as many as the older ones did but it’s still out there, struggling to survive in this harsh competitive world of ours.

I wonder what others think? Do you have family favourites?

I started this piece wondering about the misheard phrase or saying: maybe I can share our family favourite which was when the Vet, aged about 7, came home to tell us, sadly, of her friend who was Black Toast Intolerant. She always feared I’d cook breakfast at the next sleepover and kill the poor soul.



About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published four books - Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, My Father and Other Liars, Salisbury Square and Buster & Moo. In addition I have published three anthologies of short stories and a memoir of my mother. More will appear soon. I will try and continue to blog regularly at about whatever takes my fancy. I hope it does yours too. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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