'Beachcomber' and UK Satire Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

'Beachcomber' and UK Satire

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Beachcomber was a humorous column in the Daily Express for several decades in the first half of the last century. It was first written by DB Wyndham-Lewis. The column was later inherited by JB Morton, and his part-surreal, part-satirical style influenced the comedians Spike Milligan and Peter Cook. Why is that of interest? Because that means he is indirectly responsible today for a great deal of that in the UK which can be described by the word 'comedy'. Among others, Milligan's has influenced Monty Python, Harry Hill and Reeves and Mortimer. Peter Cook's huge personality (from beyond the grave) can be seen reflected in the three personalities that comprise the famous UK satirical show Have I Got News For You: Paul Merton (surreal, arrogant, rambling), Ian Hislop (angry, satirical) and Angus Deaton (smooth, smarmy, charming). These three used to appear together regularly on BBC2 as a sort of comedy holy trinity until the latter lost his job as host of the show (but that's a different story).

Your average exponents of UK satire (Rory Bremner, Private Eye magazine) usually makes rather obvious, worthy attacks on specific people or institutions, but Beachcomber recognised that the medium is the message, and in those days, that meant all the awful newspapers, novels, and plays around him. After reading Beachcomer (as with watching Airplane) you can't help thinking that every 'serious' thing is going to turn out to be stupid. You start to see surreality in everything. In exactly the same way, more recently, satire such as Brass Eye and The Day Today attacked the media as much it ridiculed any politician.

Apparently, at one time you could buy everything JB Morton wrote for the column in book form, a vast collection of nearly 20 volumes. Also, there have been a couple of slim collections claiming to be the 'best of', the contents of which overlap. BBC Radio 4 did a series of readings by UK comedian/satirist John Sessions and others in the 1990s.

A few years back, there was an attempt to revive the column in the modern Daily Express, with someone making a stab at Morton's unique style, but it failed to meet expectations.

One last bit of trivia; John Lennon was a fan when he was little, and in the early days of the Beatles, he wrote a column called Beatcomber in a local music paper.

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