Writing the unspoken voice of the audience, Gilbert and Sullivan, wrote in frustration at the politicians of their day, who were exactly like those of our day. When Ko-Ko produces his ‘Little List’ it satirised the politician having a malicious crack-down, but it is a list of those the audience-member would persecute were they in charge, which would be sobering if it were not so funny, and liberating to say.
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!
Every performer playing Ko-Ko changes the list to include his own pet gripes or the politics of the day, with nods and winks to the audience, which is exactly what G&S expected. Gilbert’s original still holds up though:
There’s the pestilential nuisances who write for autographs —
Yes – they get the writers’ frustration in first. Apparently some people still bother celebs in that way.
And all third persons who on spoiling tête-à-têtes insist —
They’d none of ’em be missed — they’d none of ’em be missed!
Come now: in any of those endless tedious receptions the lone visitor is sent out into a room knowing no one and has to stand around like a lemon, with a compulsory glass in his hand, until he can contrive to interrupt some else’s conversation on the limpest of excuses. (A great blessing of lockdown has been avoiding those functions.) Have some sympathy, gentlemen
There’s the banjo serenader, and the others of his race
And the piano-organist — I’ve got him on the list!
Quite right too. Banjos are mercifully rare today but ukuleles are everywhere, encouraged even in some outwardly respectable schools. At least the ukulele is to be preferred to a banjo, as it burns better.
Then comes the piano accordion. I read that after the 1745 Rebellion, a youth was convicted of bearing arms against the King when he had but carried a bagpipe. Well, if a bagpipe is an offensive weapon (which few dispute), how much more the piano-accordion! If they were not punished hitherto, it is only because even the rough Highlanders would not have stooped to bearing such an instrument.
Then the idiot who praises, with enthusiastic tone
All centuries but this, and every country but his own;
Isn’t that just the curse of our times? Many an outwardly educated man will regale you unbidden about how our nation has fallen into decadency unlike some other age he may name, or to assure you that another country of his acquaintance is far superior in every turn of life, be it France, China or Darkest Peru, based on his long observations over a weekend break or a book he once read. I can barely imagine the Edwardians, for example, tolerating such impudence – that was a far more confident age where patriotism was expected of all and a natural thing, unlike these degraded generations, and even today you would not find this self-hating attitude in patriotic America, or France – the French indeed for all their bizarre philosophy are solidly patriotic, which is as we should be.
And the lady from the provinces, who dresses like a guy
And who “doesn’t think she dances, 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 he missed!
Now wait; that “dresses like a guy” means “like a Guy Fawkes effigy”, not, well, you know. Country ladies in my experience are more elegant, though you take your context into account. Long, scarlet silk dresses, heels and jewellery do work in a London restaurant (or one of those tedious receptions) but are ridiculous the moment she is out of that room. Such apparel is not for real life hauling soggy dogs out of the back of a Volvo or being hauled by them through bushes. No; a country lass beats them all, and if she wants to write a book, good for her, as long as I’m not expected to read it.
And that Nisi Prius nuisance, who just now is rather rife
The Judicial humourist — I’ve got him on the list!
I sympathise with the judges. All day long, five days a week, and into the evenings, they are heads-down over papers that delve deep into the worst of profundities of humanity, or in the court itself, which is a piece of theatre (except that on a theatrical performance hang the livelihoods of the actors and all those who work at the theatre, while in a court hangs the livelihood only of the one man in the dock). The sordid underbelly of human life exposed, the future of the defendant in the balance, the reputation of order and justice themselves at risk; but it has to be played according to rules, with utter politeness and respect on all sides, strained sometimes, but it is not personal. It is an inherently ludicrous situation, so surely a judge cannot help but show it sometimes. He has to wade through the relentless awfulness of criminality, so a sense of humour is vital. On the other hand, if you are the defendant in the dock you expect your future to decided in a sombre, precise manner, not by what might as well be stand-up night at the Duke of York.
And apologetic statesmen of a compromising kind
And such apologies for statesmen we have today. What is it about apologising for everything? That is theatre in itself. I will at some point get round to writing about political apologies, but it would go on for longer than I wish to spend on a line of G&S. Suffice to say that a politician who apologises or kneels (or worse) makes himself despicable. I could name several but –
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!