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Bonzer Words!: Bible Jack

'Jack, why is it cruel ter stick pins in beetles yet it ain't ter sew buttons on flies?'

And Bible Jack had an answer to the question, as John Powell reveals.

The Shaftsbury Avenue area has long been the centre of London's theatreland, with well-known venues such as The Adelphi; Her Majesty's; The Palladium and The Dominion. In my youth the Palladium was the home of comedy where The Crazy Gang team of Flanagan and Allen, Nervo and Knox and Naughton and Gold, ably supported by the likes of 'Monsewer' Eddy Gray, Max Miller the Cheeky Chappy, and Tommy Trinder, had the audiences doubled up with laughter.

Hyde Park's Speakers' Corner had its 'Stump Speakers', the name for any who wished to stand on a soap box and start talking, debating, or complaining about any subject. If discussions become too overheated two burly London Bobbies would appear from nowhere and lead the two participants away to the Marble Arch to cool off—and then return. Free speech, the essence of democracy.

Speakers' Corner was the free street university attended from time to time by such as Karl Marx. George Orwell, Lenin, William Morris and many budding politicians, clergymen and union leaders. The Socialist Party always had a stand there, giving rise to the popular joke about the left-wing Union leader, haranguing the crowd,

'When the day of freedom comes, you'll all be like the bosses; when the day of freedom comes you'll all smoke cigars like the bosses; when the day of freedom comes you'll all travel in a Rolls Royce like the bosses and wear top hats.'

Voice from the crowd, 'But I don't want to wear a top 'at.'

And the reply, 'Listen, comrade, when the day of freedom comes you'll do what you are bloody well told!'

Although the Palladium had its comedians so did Speakers' Corner and it was for free. My favourite, and of many others judging from the crowd, was Bible Jack, who would answer any question with quotations from the Bible. He stood on a box with a stand in front, which he would thump with his fist as he looked at us with the cheekiest grin, answering in his cockney dialect. He loved every minute of it. So did we.

With fly buttons being the fashion then and zips unheard of, there came a cockney's question.

'Yes, I've gotta question, Jack.'

'Let's 'ave it then, yer poor perisher'.

'Jack, why is it cruel ter stick pins in beetles yet it ain't ter sew buttons on flies?'

'Gaw, me ol' cock sparrer!' said Bible Jack, pointing a warning finger at the heckler,' GAW! Yer ain't 'alf in trouble. If yer 'ave ter sew a button on yer Fly, you'd better make yer confession quick, because without yer Fly button you can be run in by th' Bobbies because you've left undone them things yer didn't ought ter 'ave done and wot yer ought to 'ave done up. Ecclesiastes, which yer can't spell says, Chapter 3, Verse 7, "there is a time to rend and a time to sew". Ecclesiastes also says, "Dead flies cause the ointment of the Apothecary to send forth a striking savour". So do it quick, mate, do it quick.'

'All right, Jack but why is it cruel to stick pins in beetles, then?'

'Of course yer can stick pins in beetles' Jack replied, thumping his stand. 'Course yer can; Ecclesiastes says, "whatever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might" and I tells yer what; if yer don't want ter stick pins in beetles I can soon tell yer another place where you can stick 'em.'

Nearby was Holy Joe, with a white, cardboard dog collar and a mournful face, preaching a mournful sermon.

'And the Bible says,' he wailed, 'and the Bible says thou shalt not commit adultery.'

'What abaht you?' yells a cockney voice, 'I sees yer with that little bit of fluff down there in th' pub at Shepherd's Bush. I sees yer wiv me own eyes; I'll tell yer Missus all abaht yer'.

An American soldier, unaware of the tradition, admonishes the heckler for interrupting and is quite unprepared for the unexpected result. Like a flash Holy Joe turned to the American. 'Listen, cousin, if he wants to talk,' pointing at the heckler. 'If he wants to talk then he bloody well can.'

With today's ideas of political correctness I hope the Stump Speakers can still say what they like and that the Bible Jacks and Holy Joes, with their humorous, cockney repartee, still flourish because in those days they rivalled The Palladium's Crazy Gang for laughter: even better, as the entertainment was free.

© John Powell

** John writes for Bonzer magazine. Please visit www.bonzer.org.au


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